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Much to the chagrin of false prophet Harold Camping and his followers, the rapture did not occur at 6:00 PM Eastern Time today. What do we make of it?
Theres a clear biblical issue. About two decades ago, Camping claimed that the world would end sometime between September 15 and September 17, 1994. The Bible is pretty clear that no one knows the day or the hour of Christs return. Not even Harold Camping.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins Left Behind series of novels about the end times made a splash. A lot of respected scholars disagree with the authors interpretations of Biblical prophecy, but the series helped popularize the study of the end times in ways few other things have.
There are about as many interpretations of the End Times as there are interpreters. LaHaye and Jenkins are also the authors of a book called Are We Living in the End Times? You might have heard passionate pronouncements from preachers claiming that we are, in fact, living in the last days. I just ordered a used copy of Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraaffs The Apocalypse Code. Who is right?
Talk, unfortunately, is cheap, and so for that matter are sincerity and passion. Stories about charismatic leaders leading their flocks down dead-end streets suggest that we should also be suspicious of those who claim special insight or authority. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us to (p)rove all things; hold fast that which is good. Markets can help us do just that.
People with strong beliefs should be willing to put their money where their mouths are. The late Julian Simon was a master of this. Superior knowledge and insight can be turned into profitable opportunities. My personal property no longer has value to me after the Rapture, but it might have value to someone else. If I knew the precise date of the end of the world, I would sell everything in the months leading up to it and use the resources to spread the word, as some of Campings followers have apparently done.
If I were pretty sure the Rapture might happen sometime over the next 40 years, I should be able to make a deal with someone who disagrees but who would be willing to pay me now in exchange for title to my property after the Rapture. I could then use the resources to spread my message. I got no takers on my offer of $1000 for all of one apparently Camping-affiliated groups earthly belongings I made after I first learned about the claim that Judgment Day would happen on 5/21/2011.
Harold Camping isnt the only discredited doomsday prophet among us. As Ive followed this, Ive wondered what percentage of the people who laugh at Camping and his misled followers nonetheless nod sagely, furrow their brows, and reach for their checkbooks whenever professional doomsayers in the environmental movement like Lester Brown and Paul Ehrlich warn of overpopulation, the end of oil, and the end of prosperity in spite of track records littered with doomsday predictions that failed to come true.
If you are convinced that natural resources limit potential economic growth and that cities like Miami are threatened by rising sea levels, you should be able to earn profits buying and selling futures and options contracts. As rising population increases competition for scarce natural resources, prices should rise. As the climate changes and sea levels rise, prices of land in cities threatened by rising sea levels should fall and prices for land further from the coasts should rise. If you know better than everyone else, you should act on it, make a pile of money, and use the profits to help alleviate the disaster that everyone else was too blind to see.
These arent parlor games or issues to be taken lightly. Intemperate apocalyptic speculation, whether it is sacred or secular, has the potential to do serious damage. If you are blessed with superior insight or interpretation, you should be able to profit from it and use those profits to advance whatever cause you believe in. If youre unwilling, I suggest that you look deep inside yourself and ask whether you really are certain that The End is just around the corner.
Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and an Associate Professor of Economics at Samford Universitys Brock School of Business.