Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Whatsoever may be just I shall be giving you."

(FD: This post doesn't have anything to do with MMT per se, etc., etc...)

In the Sacred Scriptures, Matthew 20, Jesus teaches through a prophetic economic parable, which begins:
1 "For like is the kingdom of the heavens to a man, a householder, who came out at the same time with the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 Now, agreeing with the workers for a denarius a day, he dispatches them into his vineyard.
Here the householder hires a crew of workers for day labor, and the day wage agreement is for the oft heard "a denarius a day".  This agreement is priced in the form of the Roman state currency, or what is termed "nomisma" in Greek, a single denarius, what the archeological record indicates is the smallest denomination existent of the Roman currency. The day progresses and the householder still seeks to hire more workers even though the day is advancing.
3 "And, coming out about the third hour, he perceived others standing in the market, idle. 4 And to those he said, 'You also go into my vineyard, and whatsoever may be just I shall be giving you.' Now they came away.
At this point the householder hires others who appear and are idle, but no fixed price agreement is made with these new workers. The householder only commits to pay them "what is just". This process continues every few hours, perhaps this was harvest time in the vineyards, and harvest cannot be delayed.
5 Now, again coming out about the sixth and ninth hour, he does similarly. 6 "Now, about the eleventh, coming out, he found others standing. And he is saying to them, 'Why stand you here the whole day idle?' 7 They are saying to him that 'No one hires us.' He is saying to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.'
Here, at the latest part of the day, the householder inquires of others he again finds idle, as to why they are remaining idle for that day. The Scripture discloses they are being denied employment: "No one hires us."  With this disclosure, the householder immediately employs them for whatever time is left in the day. The workday then comes quickly to an end:
8 "Now, evening coming on, the lord of the vineyard is saying to his manager, 'Call the workers and pay them the wages, beginning from the last, to the first.'
So now the householder proceeds to pay the workers. He has at this point committed to pay the first workers, who have worked a whole day, a previously agreed upon day wage, and to the part-day workers, only what he believes to be "just".

These turn out to be the same amount.  The householder is here implementing what can be termed today in modern economics a Basic Income Guaranty for his workers.
9 "And, coming, those hired about the eleventh hour got a denarius apiece. 10 And, coming, the first infer that they will be getting more. And they also got a denarius apiece.
If we were to contemplate a present day implementation of such a policy of a Basic Income Guaranty, many I'm sure would complain of "unfairness", and this 2,000 year old parable reveals perhaps not much has changed since then;
11 Now, getting it, they murmured against the householder, 12 saying, 'These last do one hour, and you make them equal to us who bear the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'
The just householder reminds the day workers of their previous civil agreement, and unapologetically claims his authority to provide whatever he deems just and righteous to his other workers.
13 Yet he, answering one of them, said, 'Comrade, I am not injuring you! Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Pick up what is yours and go away. Now I want to give to this last one even as to you.
The householder then senses their jealousy and wickedness upon being in sight of a just act.
15 Is it not allowed me to do what I want with that which is mine? Or is your eye wicked, seeing that I am good?'
Jesus then wraps up with the proclamation for the kingdom:
16 Thus shall the last be first, and the first last."
Some observations:

1. The parable takes place entirely inside the Roman economy as it is denominated in "nomisma", no "argurion" is involved.

2. The householder actually cannot pay the part-day workers less as the Roman currency system is designed such that there is no smaller a denomination of "nomisma" than the denarius which is the prevailing day-wage.

3. The householder would have had to have broken the original agreement of a denarius a day to be able to pay the full-day workers more than the part-day workers.

4. In His kingdom, the wicked will be dismissed, involuntary unemployment will not be tolerated, and there will be a basic income guaranty.


peterc said...

Love it, Matt. And such an elegant presentation. Cheers.

Clonal said...


very well stated. Very insightful take on Matthew 20

Jim said...

But in His Kingdom there will be concentrated land ownership and power relationships between owners and employees. I think I'll pass on His Kingdom.

Matt Franko said...


It seems the Lord supports your JIG ;) I read your BIG post and something clicked wrt my understanding of Mat 20 here... thanks!

The blogs seem like a re-emergence of The Synagogue (to the chagrin of The Academy).

... understanding of MMT is in view here too as I dont think one can see this parable this way without understanding MMT...

I don't know how a nominal Christian can now justify their advocacy for the NAIRU... that is just hard for me to understand at this point....

Looking into this further: The Roman "As" seems to have emerged soon after Jesus told this parable:

Some records of this smaller denomination in Brittania here under Tiberius (Minted AD 35-37).

So they might have started to lose their price anchor once they issued the As under the Denarius and it was downhill from there, lost their labor price anchor or something.

If the As had been issued, now the householder could have paid the part-day workers less than the full-day workers.

But notice it is not that the full-day workers expect the part-day workers to be paid LESS, it is that the full-day workers expect to be paid MORE; this leads me to believe that the 'Denarius' was the smallest denomination issued ('As' not yet issued).

You may not have been able to ask someone: "hey buddy, can I get change for this Denarius?" (Hard to buy small items so they probably just gave it to you...think about today where we charge people to buy a bottle of WATER no less... things look very different back then)

So perhaps there is something to be gleaned from this as far as a future system design; you fix your day wage to the smallest unit issued or something like that... would seem pretty radical, need to think about this some more...


Matt Franko said...

Missed this:

" you make them equal to us "

There is an element of "class" inferred here. Not necessarily "fairness"... I missed that...


Clonal said...


There are some interesting observations about money in the Roman Empire in Bill Still's video - The Secret of Oz

While the history is good, the solutions are not totally aligned with the MMT paradigm.