So there I was, sitting here trying to think about how I am going to teach "wealth maldistribution as a market failure"--that is, how when the distribution of wealth does not accord with utility and desert, the market economy's price-rationing of goods and services--and its assignment of jobs--can and does go really badly awry. This is a bad thing. But it is not quite right to call it a market failure: it is, the market thinks, a market success...
And so I was rereading the Krell-brained Cosma Shalizi's mindblowingly excellent Dives, Lazarus, and Alice. And I found myself thinking about the characters: "Alice" comes from computer science: "Alice wishes to send a secure message to Bob. Carol wishes to intercept it..."
"Dives" and "Lazarus", however, come from Jesus: Luke 16:19-31:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said: "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."
But Abraham said: "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence."
Then he said: "I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment."
Abraham saith unto him: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them."
And he said: "Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent."
And he said unto him: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
It is clear that at one level this parable is in dialogue with the resurrection--that Jesus is predicting (although the auditors of the parable have no clue that this is what he is saying) that God's long-run plan will fail, for not even a resurrection will convince Jews like Dives's brothers to turn their lives around, and thus grow big enough to fit into heaven.
But is, at another level John in dialogue with Luke? What is the relationship is between "Lazarus" in Luke and "St. Lazarus of Bethany" in John?
- In Luke, Dives asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to teach Dives's brothers.
- In Luke, Abraham rejects Dives's plea, saying it would be fruitless to do so.
- In John, Jesus does for St. Lazarus of Bethany what Abraham would not do for Lazarus the Beggar--raises him and sends him back to earth to teach.
- And, in John: "many of the Jews... having seen [Lazarus raised]... believed..."