Sept. 29, 2020

Zachary Karabell on Genesis 41:46-53 – “The Economics of Joseph: How to Manage a Country During a Famine”

Mark is delighted to welcome Zachary Karabell to the podcast today. Zachary is an author, columnist, podcast host, founder of the Progress Network at New America, and president of River Twice Research and River Twice Capital. He is also the most thoughtful commentator in the United States about macroeconomics, broadly defined, and his books and columns consistently articulate his distinctive philosophy of American economic optimism. The passage he has chosen to discuss today is Genesis 41:46-53.

Zachary begins by confirming his summary of the passage, which leads to a thorough discussion of its relevance to the current situation within the world, and the lessons it can teach everyone in this regard. He and Mark review these lessons intently by looking at the preparation for the pandemic, the human tendency to extrapolate the present to the future, the power of optimism as opposed to the paralytic effect of fear, and just how people should be acting during this crisis. Zachary wraps the episode up with his perspective on historical analogs to the current situation, and the lessons he has learned about mankind particularly as they relate to the topics discussed here today. As Zachary states, ‘biblical texts remain resonant’, and the many lessons that he draws from today’s passage are directly applicable to precisely what everyone in the world is experiencing at this very moment – yet another profound example of the Torah’s eternal gift of guidance.

Episode Highlights:

  • Zachary’s summary of the passage and its economic lessons for all of us
  • How these lessons relate to current circumstances in the US and other parts of the world
  • Preparation for the pandemic
  • The human tendency to extrapolate the present to be the future
  • Hoping for a better future and the pushback it currently generates
  • The paralytic effect of fear
  • How we should be acting in this pandemic
  • Shifting the conversation to ‘What do we do to live in the face of a threat?’
  • Zachary’s perspective on historical analogs to the current situation
  • The lessons Zachary has learned about mankind


“That seemed apropos our current weird, weird national and global moment.”

“The time to manage a famine is before and not during.”

“We had a lot of plans on paper, but that didn’t mean that anyone was able to execute them.”

“It was the same push toward more revenue regardless of whether it was a private or public system.”

“Six months ago no one could imagine this was going to happen. And six months later, we have a failure of imagination for this no longer being the dominant reality of all of our lives…it saps people’s energy.”

“You’re not honoring my suffering.”

“Literally, life will go on.”

“I call your optimism a deeply rigorous optimism.”

“In the midst of a storm it’s very hard to take measured steps to build shelter – that’s the world we’re in right now.”

“It is incumbent upon all of us to try to be less scared.”

“We should be aware of the fact that part of what is going on is that we are less resilient in the face of death.”

“The reason why biblical texts remain resonant, is that, while there’s been massive structural change in how humanity lives, I don’t know that there’s been massive emotional change in how humanity is.”

Genesis 41:46-53 -


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