Israel’s progress undermined

A damaging ethos of ‘welfarism’ and distributive politics has come to dominate not only academia but our cultural, military and even our business elites.

Filed under:

fundamentals • labor market • public policy • education • welfare

A recent conference at the Tel Aviv University School of Government, that was supposed to hold an academic discussion on the desired distribution of the income to be derived from the findings of gas off our shore, was an example of how politics are taking over our universities. Sponsored by the notoriously “post-Zionist” and anti-capitalist New Israel Fund, and three organizations affiliated by it, the “conference” espoused a clear political agenda, whose conclusions where emblazoned on huge posters at the entrance. The “debate” it featured was a sham, giving voice mostly to those who supported its foregone conclusions and limiting the few opposing voices to three minutes each.

At the root of most ills, academic, organizational and budgetary inflicting our universities is their increasing politicization.

Large chunks of the social sciences and humanity departments are dominated by tenured professors who, under the guise of academic learning and freedom, promote a post modernist nihilism (since all knowledge is just someone’s domineering “narrative”, everything goes) and obsess about establishing a Palestinian State. As if the Jewish state’s legitimacy depended on it, no matter how irredentist and dictatorial it will be, and how oppressive it already is to its own people. Somehow, our academicians believe that supporting such a jingoistic and criminal entity can atone for Israel’s putative colonialism even if the poor Palestinians will have to live in another Arab “democracy”.

Our “social minded” liberals also uphold a neo-Marxist ideology, hostile to free markets and to growth. They have brainwashed generations of students (no opposing views get a hearing in class) indoctrinating them with an ideology that fifty years ago, when the horrors of Communism were not famous yet, they absorbed as innocent students.

Such regressive views have done enormous damage to the Israeli economy and to its society. A damaging ethos of “Welfarism” and distributive politics has come to dominate not only the academia but our cultural, military and even our business elites. It believes that profit derives from exploitation, and that every deal, especially commercial, is a zero sum game, the winner exploiting a loser. It promotes the old Marxist “class struggle” conundrum and defends monopolistic unions as necessary to protect workers.

This destructive view of economic activity has become a self fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps it is why it is often difficult to do business with Israelis. An adversarial attitude to labor relations and the imposition of Histadrut generated “progressive” labor laws have so politicized the workplace that the capable Israeli worker is unable to produce more than two thirds of what an American worker produces. Low productivity translates naturally into low wages.

Such negative attitudes toward enterprise are the cause the Israeli economy, endowed with enormous potential, the best human capital in the world, and hundreds of billions invested from foreign sources, has performed until the recent pro-markets reforms, like a third world economy. The continued domination by a few tycoons and their monopolies and oligopolies is a continuing cause why the Israeli economy cannot fulfill its great potential.

Our academicians seem oblivious to all this and to the fact that economic concentration created by government domination of the economy constrains competition and damages efficiency. Lack of competition enables the tycoons to inflate prices and lack of efficiency helps them justify the low wages they pay. High prices and low wages dictated by monopolies – and not exploitation by the free market system, as these academicians claim – is responsible for the fact that most Israelis, especially the lower paid strata – are unable to make ends meet (altogether only dogmatic Marxists can imagine that the Israel economy, still replete with government intervention and with government sanctioned monopolies and entry barriers is a capitalist “Thatcherite”, no less, economy!).

Our academicians have therefore stood aloof from the effort to break our economy’s excessive concentration. Many of their pro-welfare organization get substantial contributions from our tycoons, helping legitimize them.

To protect, ostensibly, the weakened strata, that welfare keeps weak and dependent (since the high taxes required to maintain its proliferating bureaucracies and wasteful practices chock growth and spread poverty), our academicians have developed a complete theology of “rights” that the government (namely the tax payer) must translate into entitlements. They are blind to the fact that, generally, governments’ interventions in the economy help mostly the politically privileged, but hurt the rest by curbing growth. List all the “underdeveloped” areas in Israel, including the Negev the Galilee and Jerusalem, and you get a list of places the government spent billions “to help”. The universal failure of Communist and Socialist regimes and the repeated bankruptcy of welfare systems are in great part due to the fact that they must be run by governments.

The academicians’ advocacy of radical welfarism also makes a mockery of Zionism which was originally meant to help Jews become productive, self-sufficient people. Instead welfarism made Israelis dependent on a corrupt and corrupting political system that is radicalizing politics by forcing them to fight for government favors. But Marxism acts as blinders. Our academicians cannot understand that a welfare state means big government, and big government is inevitably wasteful and corrupt.

Need we still prove why the politicization of the academy is ruining in addition the few last nature preserves where one can hold in Israel an open pluralistic discussion? Those in doubt should please explain how Israeli elites came to resemble “a one note choir” as Prof. Amnon Rubinstein once put it.

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