The complaint index

Jews complain to keep them mindful of what remains to be fixed, but there is no harm in being proud of what we have accomplished.

May 30, 2013 23:41
3 minute read.
Tel Aviv beach

Tel Aviv beach 370. (photo credit: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)

Since their wanderings in the desert, the Jewish people have distinguished themselves as particularly ardent gripers. They complained about the manna that fell from the heavens and remembered with nostalgia their slavery and the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic they ate in Egypt. Even God lost His patience. And the “Jews love to complain” trope is prominent among Jewish comedians to this day.

That is why it was so refreshing to see Israel rank relatively high on a “life satisfaction measure” in a recently released OECD survey.

The survey, which asked respondents to evaluate their lives as a whole rather than in accordance with their present feelings, found that on a scale of 0 to 10, Israelis gave their subjective perception of well-being a 7.1 score – slightly higher than the OECD average of 6.6.

At the same time, continuing their age-old tradition of whining, Israelis also complained a lot. Only 70 percent said they have more positive experiences (pride in accomplishment, enjoyment) in an average day than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom). The OECD average is 80%.

Which of the two seemingly contradictory survey results is true? Perhaps both sentiments reflect a certain reality. On one hand, there is much for Israelis to be proud about.

For instance, among the 60 most competitive economies in the world, Israel ranked 19th, according to the Geneva-based International Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) World Competitive Yearbook.

Israel received the highest possible score from IMD for its business innovation, research and development expenditures as a percentage of GDP, scientific research, Internet security, and expenditure on education. And since 1997, Israel has been counted among the countries – alongside China, Germany, South Korea, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan – whose ranking on the IMD index has steadily increased. And according to OECD projections, Israel’s GDP will grow 3.9% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2014, compared to an average of 1.2% and 2.3%, respectively, among OECD countries.

At the same time there is much to complain about. We continue to grapple with huge poverty rates and income inequality. For instance, Israel is ranked 59th out of 60 in the IMD index when it comes to the percentage of our population that is dependent upon welfare. And the problem of poverty is directly related to the low percentage of working-age men and women – particularly in the haredi and Arab sectors – who participate in the labor market.

With an employment rate of just 61%, Israel is ranked 27th out of 36 OECD countries. And Israel is ranked 28th out of 33 OECD countries when it comes to income inequality (the difference between the income of the top 20% compared to the bottom 20%).

Those who do work in Israel work longer hours. In contrast to an OECD average of 1,776 hours a year, the average Israeli works 1,890 a year.

Another major reason to complain is Israel’s high cost of living. Red tape makes opening a new business or building homes restrictively complicated; high custom duties on imports, a lack of real competition in sectors such as retail food all contribute to making Israel a a particularly expensive country. Israel ranked 48th out of 60 on IMD’s index when it comes to the cost of living.

Reducing bureaucracy and encouraging competition will go a long way toward making Israel’s cost of living more affordable, while encouraging the ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations to integrate more fully in the labor market will lighten the strain on the welfare state and, we hope, reduce income inequality.

There is much that needs improvement and, therefore, much for Israelis to complain about. But there is much for which to be thankful as well. Our economic growth remains robust, business innovation – particularly in the hi-tech field – is dynamic and unemployment rates among those actively seeking employment are low.

Sure Jews complain. It keeps them mindful of what remains to be fixed. But there is no harm in being proud of what we have accomplished.

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