A Short Outline of The Foundations of
The early 1990’s have witnessed the collapse of the
What have caused all of these gyrations? Does the problem lie in economics alone? There is a vast literature written about capitalism, its nature, characteristics, its tendency towards stability or instability. It will be a horrendous task to review the literature on this issue. But a few observations may help.
I. A Note on The Capitalist System:
The economy is an “instituted process” that
results from the
choices and behavior of society
(polanyi, 1944). Economics, as field of
inquiry is essentially a behavioral science. Scientists come up with theories
to describe World phenomena, to propose solutions for existing problems and to
anticipate future events. The emergence
Regardless of the reforms that capitalism have gone through, the changes were in degree much more than in substance and the main ingredients of capitalism remained the same. Value judgments in general, but religious ones in particular, were considered as inappropriate for scientific deliberations, the individual is rational and, self-interest is the major organizing principle.
When there is a mismatch between goals and ends, the situation may be the result of a theory that is inadequately useful, ignorance or inability to apply the theory, or both. Path finding requires a World vision that directs Man about the meaning of life, about what is right and what is wrong, motivates him to act accordingly, and provides for corrective personal and social mechanisms in case of malpractice.
Chapra (1991) explains that the reason behind the failure of capitalism to achieve its socially desired goals “was the severe conflict between its goals and its world view and strategy. The goals were humanitarian, based on a moral foundation, the world view and the strategy were social Darwinist” (p. 14). Economically speaking the schedules of demand and supply reflect what people are willing and able to offer and purchase. Survival depends on the underlying conditions of supply and demand.
Joseph Schumpeter is one renowned contemporary western economist who anticipated the social decay of western society because “of the lack of faith resulting in the absence of leadership…utilitarian philosophy teaches no regulatory social control other than individual selfishness. Consequently, a dangerous principle of irreligious rationalism gained possession over a long time of highly intelligent thinkers. The market liberalism that this social philosophy fathered, while it brought economic success, did not confront the moral problem” (Waters, 1994). Schumpeter’s proposed solution is vague. He calls for a corporative form of social organization, where “cooperation not just competition is a necessary part of the social organism in relationships”. Schumpter was not optimistic about the possibilities of applying his idea except may be only in catholic societies. (Waters 1994) Schumpeter’s inadequacy was because, he might not have been informed of any other religion.
In terms of economic theory the individualistic thought has no reference for the individual’s rationality except for consistency in preference ordering. No discussion or explanation is given about why should one thing be preferred to another. Wasfi (1971) explains that the individualistic thought is essentially non ideological. The limit to individual rights is determined by man-made laws, and the human legislators have an unlimited freedom in legislation. The source of legitimacy depends on the hierarchy of legislation. The proponents of the individualist thought have tried to come up with what they called the principes generaux, du driot. Its basis are ideas such as freedom, equality …. etc. But the individualist system has no supreme ideal that it tries to reach. Freedom, and equality do not have clear definitions or objectives. (pp. 15-31).
There has been dissatisfaction with the individualists insistence on man’s absolute rationality as we have seen with Schumpeter. Some Western economists tried to come up with an alternative paradigm. According to the neo-institutionalist school of thought, human behavior is characterized by (1) limited rationality and (2) opportunism. The neo-institutionalist transaction cost economics approach looks at the firm as a governance structure of contracts; the purpose of which is to economize on man’s bounded rationality and safeguard against his opportunism (Williamson, 1985). This is a step forward indeed. For it recognizes some of the basic weaknesses of mankind. But it also implies that man is ill-motivated; hardly an optimistic view. While neo-institutionalist economies tries to explain, and remedy contractual shortcoming, it has no moral dimension to deal with inner weaknesses of the contractors. The basic problem with Western paradigms is two-fold. (a) the absence of an “outside” reference of what is good and what is bad (to rectify for one’s limited rationality), and (b) it is limited in horizon as it does not go beyond this World. The ideas of Resurrection, the Hereafter and the Day of Judgment are either absent or very weak in the Western “Scientific” thinking. These concepts act as additional deterrents against opportunism in case the law is absent or powerless. Contracts, then, are necessary but not sufficient to economize on bounded rationality and guard against opportunism. A search for an alternative system is thus called for.
II The System of Islam:
A) The Moral Base
A major distinction between religion and philosophy is that
religion has a spiritual dimension that philosophy does not have. This gives religion a source (but not the only source) of
permanency and supremacy in organizing
and directing the behavior of man. The decoupling
of the moral code of Christianity from the common law that organizes the
day-to-day affairs of people took place at an early stage of Christianity. This was followed over the years by sharp
disputes among Christians about the essence of belief, and led to the abuse of
religion by the church and confusion among the commons about its usefulness. This has led to the natural revolt against
Such a conflict did not exist in the history of Islam for three reasons. First, Quran , the prime source of the Islamic faith, has been kept the same, unscathed over all times and places. Second, for the careful mind , there is nothing in Quran that contradicts Reason. Third, the teachings of Quran were the driving force for Muslims to investigate the Universe and offer humanity major contributions in almost every field of knowledge. In other words, the religion of Islam has been a source of inspiration rather than an obstacle against development. This by itself is a historical proof that the Islamic approach to the matters of life is not only scientific, in the sense of amenability to world proof, but it is also much more firmly grounded than other speculative approaches. Ekelund and Hebert
“ The death of the last Roman emperor in
476 ushered in a long period of secular decline in the west and a concomitant
rise in the fortunes of the east. For five centuries, from 700 to 1200, Islam
led the world in power, organization, and extent of government; in social
refinements and standards of living; in literature, scholarship, science,
medicine, and philosophy. The Arab world
acted as a sort of conduit to the west for Hindu wisdom and culture. It was Moslem science that preserved and
developed Greek mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and medicine during
this half millennium, while the west was sinking into what historians commonly call the Dark
Ages. By A.D. 730
the Moslem empire reached from
After the city of
what is the basic organizing principle of Islam? In a short verse of Quran, it says, “I
have only created Jinns and men , that they may worship Me”. (
The general theme of Islamic jurisprudence can be described as one that seeks to attain benefits (collective and personal) and deter hardships. This is achieved by protecting the Five Necessities; Religion, Life, (Man) Kind, Reason, and Wealth. Since the preservation of wealth is one of the Five Necessities, one wonders about the nature of the Islamic economy and economics.
B. The Nature of the Islamic Economy and Economics:
We have already explained that the supreme organizing
principle of the Islamic system of life is God worshipping and that the
Economic Man is replaced by the Worshipping
Since faith is the source of law and behavior, Islamic economics becomes essentially policy-oriented, and the distinction between positive and normative economics becomes blurred, if ever relevant. The teachings of Islam act as the agenda of research in economics and other fields, and as such, research becomes less speculative. A correct practice may precede a complete comprehension of the underlying theory. It requires belief before it requires theorizing. This does not imply that the two can go on indefinitely separate. Theory, on the basis of belief, is more required as belief is weakened and/or as new circumstances develop. Also, a correct theory should enhance, solidify, and promote the growth of a correct practice.
There are five areas of Islamic jurisprudence that effect the distribution of wealth and the allocation of resources. These are:
(1) The laws of ownership of land and natural resource , (2) The law of inheritance , (3) The contract law (4) The law on money and credit ,and (5) The law of taxation .
These laws represent a vehicle to operationalize the moral code by giving detailed rules of conduct in every worldly affair. In this paper we are going to discuss briefly only the implications of the last two laws.
C. The Economics of Money and Interest:
Discussions about money and interest ( usury ) are at least as old as the
time of Aristotle, if not earlier. For
many centuries interest was understood in many, if not all, parts of the world
as a contractual mark
up over loans. It was only
with industrial revolution, the spread of finance and, the revolt against the church , that people in
In Islam, Riba (Interest) is strictly prohibited, and there are many verses in Quran and Hadith (traditions of Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be Upon Him) that severly warn against the taking and giving of Riba (Interest). Ibn Taymmiyyah ( 1232-1299) defines Riba by saying “Riba is prohibited for it implies grievance, since it represents the taking of an excess (of wealth) that is a counter reward for nothing.” (vol. xx, p.341). The prohibition is applied to Riba on all objects, money and otherwise. It is interesting to know that some major contemporary western economists share the same opinion about interest. In explaining the potential “Social Philosophy” of his General Theory, Keynes writes that “it would mean the euthanasia of the rentier ……… Interest today rewards no genuine sacrifice, any more than does the rent of land …… I see therefore, the rentier aspect of capitalism as a transitional phase which will disappear when has done its work” (G.T., 1936, p. 376).
Riba that Islam came to forbid is two basic kinds: (1) Riba of debts (on money loans) and (2) Riba of Sales. Without going into the details of each, the Riba of debts is the one that used to be the most common before Islam and now. Interestingly enough, there were several variations of the Riba of debts before Islam that still exist today. One variation is for a person to lend money to another. On the due date either a principle is paid back, or payment is deferred in return for a mark up. This sounds like a penalty on delinquency in payment such as that when people use their credit cards today. In another variation, the payments of a mark up is conditioned at the beginning of the loan period. This is similar to simple interest today. A third variation, is for interest to be paid every month, while the principle is left intact and paid at maturity. If the principle is not paid, more interest will have to be paid. The deal sounds like a regular bond today. The common feature of debt-based interest is the fact that an increment is paid in return for delay in payment. It should be noticed that there is no difference in Islam between interest usury and . The height of the interest rate makes no difference; both are considered Riba (usury), and both are forbidden.
But why does Islam forbid Riba? There are two issues here. The first is the Hekma (wisdom) of the prohibition of Riba, the second is the Illah (motive, description) of prohibition. The Hekma (wisdom) has been already mentioned in the definition of Riba given above; that Riba is a source of injustice, because it is a return for nothing, or as Keynes puts it “interest today rewards no genuine sacrifice”. What is it then that motivates an interest-based contract? Interest results from a contract between two capitalists: one wishes to avoid risk (via a guaranteed return), the other wants to have control together with the speculative possibilities and the risks brought along with it (Hadley, 1884). The fulfillment of some expectations in some endeavors gives the illusion that fulfillment of another may be practically certain (Boulding, 1951). Interest then increases cost of production in two ways: it is a sure markup and it increases risk. The possible disappointment of expectations not only foils the borrower’s speculation but also defeats the lender’s attempt to avoid risk. Kenneth Arrow observes a “fundamental paradox in the determination of demand for information: that its value is not known by the purchaser until he has the information, but then he has in effect acquired it without cost” (1982). There is a similar paradox in the “sale” of money in the sense that the value of its use is not known until investment comes to an end or until the loan contract expires, whichever comes first” (Uthman 1994 b) Thus, there is an analogy between information and money “in the sense that none of them fits the image of a ‘normal’ commodity.” (Uthman, 1994 b)
Islamic economists do not stand uncomfortable alone about interest as an economic institution. Schumpeter observes that “Interest acts as a tax upon profit” (1961, p. 175). He also observes that “As soon as it comes into existence many entrepreneurs are eliminated, and as it rises more and more of them disappear. For although possibilities of profit are practically unlimited, they differ in size and most of them are of course only small” (Schumpeter, 1961, p. 198). The risk of entrepreneurship “makes the requisite profit rate (by the borrower) always higher than the market interest rate (which includes its own risk premium), by a risk sufficiently high premium…. The higher the accumulation of capital, the lower the MEC (Marginal efficiency of capital) and, the higher the profit’s risk premium would be. There is, thus, an element of stickiness in the requisite profit rate, in addition to the element of stickiness in the requisite interest rate. No doubt that the latter reinforces the former and, hence, the existence of interest is bound to kill numerous profit opportunities causing an involuntary unemployment of investment.” (Uthman, 1994 a)
This is how the issue of risk enters into the prohibition of Interest. The above discussion investigated some elements of Hikmah (wisdom) of the prohibition of interest. What is the Illah (motive, description) for the prohibition of interest on money in particular. In other words, what particular characteristics of money that make interest bad and thus prohibited?
Ibn Algayyem (1292-1350) explains that interest on the two monies (gold and silver) is prohibited because money
is the standard o value. A measure of value
has to be standardized and standardization requires stability over place and time (Vol. II, pp. 156-7). For this to
happen it should not grow or depreciate on its own. In other words, the standard of value can be
a medium of exchange but must not be the object of exchange. Interest, then disturbs the informational
content of money. In other words, for Ibn Algayyem
and many other Muslim jurists,
the most important function of money is its service as a unit of account and
thus a measure of value (a numeraire).
The other two functions, the medium of exchange and the store of value, are
of the prime one. The
major implication of Ibn
Algayyem’s reasoning is
that interest must be prohibited on any object that serves as a measure of value. The debate about the prime function of money
continues until today. It is interesting
to note that the early Muslim scholars were ahead of some Western scholars in
arguing for the primacy of the numeraire function of money. Aschheim and Tavlas
(1996) argue “that at least since
Walras, a major strand of monetary economics imparts primacy to money’s
capacity to act as a numeraire”. This “constitutes
what may be viewed as embryonic money. A
monetary exchange system appears once a numeraire exists. The unit of account is a sufficient condition
for the existence of a money-exchange economy, whereas the medium of exchange
does not constitute a sufficient condition”.
But the discussion of the functions of money by the economists of the 18 -
hundreds, such as Walras,
The Islamic financial solution, in addition to the
prohibition of interest, is to give a
moratorium on debt payment. Better yet, is to forgive the debtor if
possible. If further debt is to be extended, it has to be
interest -free. Quran says “If the debtor is in difficulty
Grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if ye remit it By way of charity, that is
best for you if
ye only knew (II, 280) .” A major remedy to the current financial crises in
It might be noticed that Muslim scholars such as Ibn Algayyem and his mentor, Ibn Teymiyyah (1232-1299), did not come explicitly forward with a quantity theory of money and prices. Several reasons can be imagined to explain this. First and for most those scholars , as jurists , were concerned mainly about answering the question on the essential function of money. Reaching a satisfactory answer seems to have settled the issue for them. Second bimettalic money supply was highly inelastic. Discoveries of metals at that time (the 13th and 14th centuries) were not easy. The only way for money
supply to be increased in the short run was either via debasement, or the introduction of a new metallic money, such as phelos (copper money). Both actions would be encouraged by relaxing the law on interest. One would speculate that sometime during periods of instability and weakening of belief, price and output instability occurred when the rules of Riba were not strictly observed and gave Ibn Taymmiyyah and Ibn Algayyem (T&G) an empirical support about their interest-based theory of the instability of the value of money.
To see this, in the absence of interest, and when the money supply is constant in the short run, the demand for money will be determined by the needs of trade and will be positively related to the profit rate, Pr, (see figure 1).
If interest-based lending is permitted, the interest rate will rise from zero into some positive level. The emergence of a new business (the business of lending) will generate hoarding and speculation, reduce the money supply available for trade, and reduce the velocity of money. Output and the profit rate are going to fall, and prices are going to rise. The value of money which is the inverse of the price level, will decrease. The introduction of interest must be encouraging to debasement and the introduction of other means of payment, such as copper-made phelos, or paper money later on, adding a further complication to the economy. We may say that the T & G theory is an interest-based theory of money.
Aschheim and Tavlas (1996) disagree with Dvaid Laidler (1991) that the prime function of money is to serve as a store of value and agree with John Hicks (The Market Power of Money) that money’s prime function is the measurement of value. Aschheim & Tavlas (A & T), however take an exception to Hicks’ argument that “Money as a means of payment is just a debt”. They argue that this fails to illuminate the difference between a barter-exchange economy and a money exchange economy. For debt can exist under both types of economy. To them “The essence of money as a medium of exchange is the quality of money as generalized purchasing power”. A & T are right in a micro-economic sense of the word debt. Money may not be debt in a micro-economic sense, because a person who accepts money in exchange for some good or service he offers, has no recourse to the person who offered him money. But in a macro-economic sense, money may be thought of as debt, because the person who accepted money, thinking of it as a generally accepted medium of exchange, will want to exchange it later on for other goods and services. In other words, the holders of money has a claim against society at large and thus money is debt in a macro sense of the word. This brings the issue of wealth into the discussion. For debt, whether it is monetary or in kind, represents a temporary transfer of wealth from debt acceptors to debt providers. If we can imagine this process to go on indefinitely, then there is a permanent transfer of wealth from the issuers of debt (monetary or in kind) to the buyers of debt. This is the essence of interest-based lending in general and the fractional reserve banking system in particular. Thus the issuance of money (a macro debt) entails no net addition of wealth to society at large, but money, as Laidler (1969) argues in his response to Pesek & Saving (1967) expands wealth just as trade expands it , without an increase in initial endowments . It may be argued that banks are entitled a return (a share of the national pie) because of the role they assume between savers and borrowers (the theories of the evolution of banks). But interest-based lending and the fractional reserve system are neither necessary, nor sufficient for banks to do a good job in intermediation.
Interest is, as Schumpeter describes it, a tax . Islam prohibits it. What about other taxes ?
D. The Economics of Taxation in Islam:
The taxation system of Islam includes ,but is not limited to, Zakat. An understanding of the economic underpinnings of Zakat should prove helpful on how to go about imposing other taxes, whenever necessary. At the end of a fiscal year, Zakat is imposed on residual money holdings that could have been spent (but were not), on the pecuniary value of items that are intended for trade (but were not traded), and (In-kind) on durable agricultural products and livestock. Consumption, items intended for personal use such as one’s own house or car, assets that are means of production but are not capable of growing themselves, such as buildings, machines and equipment, are all exempt from Zakat. It can be concluded then that Zakat is an inventory tax on the Zakatable items. It is a tax on some stocks of the balance sheet . This is in contrast to other flow taxes in the Western economic system such as the income tax and the sales tax. A tax on a flow may impair it while tax on a stock may mobilize it. It can be shown that the full incidence of Zakat as a tax falls on producers ,with no welfare loss associated with it. Unless it becomes necessary, the Islamic system of taxation avoids in rem taxes (taxes on objects or activities). Zakat is imposed on asset-holders, and such imposition relates payments of taxes to the taxpayers’ ability to pay and provides for more equity in the tax system (Uthman, 1997).
Zakat is not a tax on savings. It is a tax on hoarding, be it monetary or physical . Savings that are invested , let’s say in financial stocks and are intended for keep, are not subject to Zakat, while if the stocks are for trade, they are taxed like any trade object. Garadawi (1969) warns that trade for the purpose of Zakat requires two conditions. First, intent, and second actual, active work on trade. A person who bought a car for his own use, but thought he may sell it , if he is offered a mark up, is not considered a trader, and thus the object kept is not subject to Zakat. If it is sold however , and the money kept until the end of the year, money balances that are equal to, or exceed nisab (the minimum tax exempt) will be subject to Zakat . The anti-hoarding principle implies that neither income from salary nor invested savings are subject to Zakat. Idle money balances are . It may be argued that Zakat on live stocks is a direct tax on some form of capital. Why not tax other forms of physical capital such as buildings, factories…etc.?? The answer is that a livestock is a kind of capital that reproduces itself with very little, or no effort from the owner. An excess supply ,that reduces its prices and return , can be reduced much more easily than other forms of physical capital. The amount of work and degree of risk is usually (much) less with livestock capital than with physical capital. Also, in primitive economies, livestock represents a major form of wealth, and thus the need to tax it is greater. In advanced economies, livestock is much less important and nevertheless can be more easily and more abundantly produced, and thus can afford more taxes. The more advanced the economy is the more specialized and specific the physical assets are, and the more risky they become. They should never be taxed directly.
The importance of Zakat goes beyond its fiscal and distributional aspects. The spiritual dimension is very important as it promotes the values of sharing, caring, and alteruism . The Islamic economic system is one, and probably the only one system that combines moral values, economic policy and economic theory as three non-separable elements of the system.
The Islamic concept of consumption and wealth can be illustrated by two hadiths, ( Traditions of Prophet Muhammad ,Peace Be Upon Him) . He said “You have (actually own) of your wealth none but what you ate and (thus) destroyed, what you wore and depreciated, or what you donated and kept (as a good deed)” . In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad Said “Whoever became secure in his neighborhood, healthy in his body, and acquired the needs of his day, verily has acquired everything in the world. .”. The intuition , or implications of the two hadiths is that one’s actual wealth (and income) is what he actually consumes of it. It is for this that Zakat does not tax income, consumption, or invested wealth . What is being taxed is idle, or potentially idle , and hoarded wealth. The problems associated with the taxation of income, consumption, and savings are well-known in the economics literature. One of the expected effects of such taxes is their impact on work incentives. Zakat on inventory, or hoarding does not seem to affect work incentives. It encourages either consumption, investment or both (see Uthman, 1997).
The timing of all Ibadat ( worships ) in Islam follows a lunar calendar. For example, the time period between any two prayers in the day is not fixed by the hour , but rather by the length and shortness of the day and night. This is related to the movement of the moon around the earth. The fasting month, Ramadan, starts with observing the new moon the of the nineth month of the lunar year. Hajj (Pilgrimage) falls on the twelveth month of the lunar year. While the timing of these worships is fixed relative to a lunar year, it is variable relative to the solar year. The production mode of basic economic products such as livestock and agriculture ,follows basically a solar calendar, even though technological advancement now made it possible to produce plants and animals out of the regular seasons. The timing of these Ibadat being at times close and at times different from the times of production, influences the time of economic exchange.
Zakat is also to be paid on a lunar calendar basis. It is usually argued that taxes act as built-in stabilizes of economic activity. Tax proceeds rise with high income and fall with low income, helping to reduce thus, the excessive moments of the aggregate demand curve. Tax payments, in magnitude and timing , are to the taxpayer procyclical , and help to stabilize the economy in that sense. In the same sense , Zakat has the same economic impact; rising with high “income” and decreasing with low “income”. It is well known that the beginning of the lunar and solar year coincide every 33 years and that every one hundred solar years are equivalent to 103 lunar years. This implies that the timing of paying Zakat coincides at times and diverges at others from the production mode of basic goods that follow a solar calendar. It is possible during this astronomical cycle that negative supply shocks, due to drought for example, may take place. It is at this time when government revenues need to be increased to support people on welfare. Since incomes at a negative shock are low, taxpayers will not be hurt in terms of how much they will pay. Tax dues go in line with their wealth and incomes. But the timing of the tax payment becomes so crucial that it should help to stabilize tax revenue and incomes of the poor. This should help to sustain demand and prolong the business cycle. The length of the cycle is prolonged on the other side of the cycle when the economy is booming. If Zakat payment falls due before the peak, it helps to restrain the excessive upward shift of the aggregate .If Zakat payment is due after the peak it helps to sustain demand. In both cases it helps to prolong the business cycle.
In short the payment of Zakat may coincide predate, or past-date the turning points of a business cycle, helping to smooth out and prolong the cycle.
In other words there are two concepts of timing in the payment of taxes. The first is timing relative to the ability of the taxpayer. The second is timing relative to the need of the tax recipient. The payment of taxes in the Western economies is fixed on specific dates on a solar calendar. The choice of the beginning of a fiscal year in Islam is the decision of the taxpayer on a lunar calendar. Furthermore, the government can borrow from people their tax dues for the next two or three year, if needed.
Conclusion: Islam is a very comprehensive and integrated code of life. It guides Man in every sphere. Islamic economics is part of that integrated system, the purpose of which is the betterment of life on the bases of the teachings of the Lord. While the contributions of the Islamic civilization in the areas of science, medicine and philosophy …etc have been recognized by many historians, it is all curious why the contributions of Muslims to economics are rarely mentioned in the books of the history of economic thought ,if ever!
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A Short Outline of The Foundations of
Usamah A. Uthman
Associate Professor of Economics
Department of Finance & Economics
King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM)
This paper is submitted to Harvard Second Forum on
The author is very grateful to KFUPM for financial support
To conclude this project