For Parshat Miketz – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Our Parsha deals with many different aspects of the subject of macro-economics. The economy is one of the major factors of human society, and is a driving force behind historical changes.
Pharaoh dreams of seven fat, healthy cows devoured by seven emaciated cows, and of seven full ears swallowed by seven withered ears. Pharaoh understands that his dream contains an important message for the future, and it gives him no rest. Only Yosef, "the dreamer" with divine inspiration is capable of accurately deciphering Pharaoh's dream.
The dream prophesizes seven years of prosperity in Egypt, followed by seven years of catastrophic economic crisis and terrible famine that could wreak widespread death and a complete breakdown of the Egyptian economy.
Yosef presents Pharaoh with the problem but, with his divine inspiration, he also proposes a solution.
The solution reflects a rare understanding of macroeconomic strategy, and is based on several axioms of macroeconomics. First of all, the principle that in the face of a crisis of this magnitude, the concepts of "free trade" and "supply and demand" could lead to disaster. The abundance of the seven years of plenty could lead to a drop in the value of the produce and destruction of inventory, and the shortage in the years of hunger could lead to widespread famine and death in the poorer classes. Yosef's program is based on government management of the national economy in order to cope with an impending crisis:
The solution to the years of shortage is government stockpiling of surplus produce from the plentiful years and creating economic reserves for the future.
During the bountiful years, the supply in the free market is limited, in order to prevent prices from dropping.
During the crisis years, the food will be distributed by the government in an orderly and controlled manner.
Procedures are enacted preventing profiteering and smuggling outside of Egypt's borders during the famine years.
Yosef "the distributor" is put in charge of running the program he proposed. He has to set up the entire infrastructure for collection and storage on a massive scale. His challenge as "the master of the land" becomes even greater during the famine, when he has to become tough and be vigilant over distribution procedure, and prevent speculation and black marketeering.
At a later stage, with the Egyptian public's total loss of buying power, Yosef became the sole address for relief, and was transformed from "Yosef the supplier" to the "master of the land" in the full sense of the word.
Without economic means, Egypt's land and population were indentured to the central government in return for food and seed, and as a result Egypt turned into a "house of slaves" to its own people and to foreigners who were forced to take economic refuge there.
For Egypt, there was another, positive result. Yosef's effective and strategic management of the economic crisis was the turning point that turned that country into an economic and military power, and the cultural center of the world.
On the practical level, the worldwide economic crisis was the reason that Yaakov's family went down to Egypt. Yosef's program created the infrastructure to absorb the family and save them from starvation. In the hidden level of G-ds plans, this was the time and place for Yaakov's family to turn into a nation.