Free markets are good for religion, and religion can often be good for the free market, visiting US economist and legal scholar David D. Friedman told The Jerusalem Post Monday.

Friedman was in Israel to speak at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies entitled “Religion and Economic Liberty: A Match Made in Heaven?” The conference was organized to coincide with the 100th birthday of Friedman’s father, the late Milton Friedman, who was considered one of the 20th century’s most influential economists.

“If you don’t have a free market and your religion is not the majority, you have real problems,” Friedman said.

“After all, if the government decides which books to print and you are 10 percent of the population and they don’t like you very much, you may not get your version of the Bible published very often.

“And if the government decides who gives speeches, and if it publishes the newspapers, it is hard for any minority to survive. And I think that’s the reason Jews have done better in free market societies than in places like the Soviet Union.”

Friedman says he is “not a religious believer,” although he takes a particular interest in Jewish law, and teaches a course at Santa Clara University about halakha, Islamic law, imperial Chinese law, native American law and other ancient legal systems. He is also writing a book on the same topic, under the working title Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.

Giving an example from Talmudic law, Friedman explained that religions can play a role in strengthening the free market. “If you read Maimonides, there were some legal situations where whether or not you were willing to swear on something decided whether you won or lost the case,” he said.

“This is a case where religion actually helps the market work, because the religion gives you a lie detector. If you are a believer, you will be very reluctant to swear a false oath, either because you think God will punish you or because you think you ought not to do it. It’s easier to make the market work if you have a way of making people tell the truth. It’s true of some other legal systems, not only Jewish law.”

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