How can King David, Emperor Augustus and Bill Gates help fix social justice issues in our economy?

We do not need to end up like the Roman empire; There is still time for us to fix and strengthen our nation-building process.

By ZOHAR HALEVY
April 28, 2015 22:44
Bill Gates

Bill Gates. (photo credit: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

 
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As the new government forms and decides its platforms and we face numerous threats abroad and from our neighbors, we cannot forget what is possibly the most important project: fixing and continuing our nation-building at home.

Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State (IS) and delegitimization threats are all very real. But all of these problems have one common disadvantage that the domestic housing crisis and improving the cost of living do not share: they require the cooperation of, or at least are dependent on the actions of, other countries and actors – in the case of Iran many other actors – sometimes limiting our ability to shape the issue.

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In contrast, addressing social justice issues which were central to the recent election campaign and impact both the middle class and the weaker sectors, directly and indirectly negatively impacting the entire country, is entirely within our hands. Many solutions have been offered to solve these issues.

With respect to cost of living, some campaign ideas included encouraging greater competition in the food industry. Other ideas focused on reducing bureaucratic costs involved in food production and removing obstacles to competition with large supermarket chains. Regarding possibly the most central issue of housing costs, campaigns stressed the importance of cutting construction time for new apartments almost in half, with some saying the time needs to be reduced from 13 to seven years.

Some short-term plans have advocated removing barriers and immediately pushing forward with construction of around 250,000 apartments already in the advanced stages of planning. Long-term, a clear part of the answer is massively boosting supply, so that the supply versus demand imbalance is corrected.

But market-based solutions, supply and demand, are only part of the answer and have limits. Capitalism is important and has fueled the country’s innovative spirit in the hi-tech industry, but is insufficient and does not have all of the answers.

Another big piece of the puzzle is a basic reorientation of our attitudes and a return to some of our traditional Jewish values, which we can learn not only from King David but ironically also from non-Jewish empire builders like the Roman emperor Augustus and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.



What do Bill Gates, the Emperor Augustus and King David have in common? In this season of counting the Omer, between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot, some mention some traditional Jewish values, including: hesed (kindness, or in the economy looking out for the worker and the consumer) and gevura (strength, or in the economy, maintaining the right balance of quality and resources to quantity and expansion.) In my book, Six Force-Multiplying Insights, based on 23 years of research and experimentation, I explain six human traits necessary for every business to become profitable, and an over 2,000-year-old system for personal and national economic growth.

Extensive research shows that these traits have been crucial to the building of economic empires, together creating capability that is much greater than the sum of its parts, and applying the system brings an increase in productivity and efficiency among employees in any organization, large or small, as well as in an economy as a whole.

Familiarity with this universal language can also create and reinforce a common ground for humanity without differences of religion, race or gender, and enhance cooperation between diverse peoples.

One of the insights, applying kindness to the economic context, is: the ability to identify the vital and current needs of average persons or employees who are lower on the totem pole, as well as customers, and to continue to invest in them, answer them optimally and not take them for granted.

Bill Gates realized that while the world was advancing into hi-tech and satellite communications, the average person was still far removed and alienated from the advantages of these breakthroughs. His entrepreneurial vision was to bridge the technological gap by revolutionizing personal computers and developing advanced software for people who were not technologically advanced.

We meet this insight much earlier in time with Augustus. He realized that he was ruling millions of people still dwelling in caves, who were neither contributing to the imperial economy nor serving as human capital for empire-building. He devised a revolutionary plan to wipe out poverty by “Romanizing” the cave dwellers, supplying them with houses and fresh water, and teaching them the trades and crafts needed for the empire’s growth. Augustus raised the economic base of the Empire, bringing unprecedented wealth.

We come across the same insight even earlier in history. In his Psalms, King David shows a difficult balance to cope with difficult emotional challenges, including combining both soft and hard power. After 3,000 years, the Book of Psalms is still one of the most quoted religious texts in the world.

Applying some of King David’s balancing act to the economy, we can learn a lot about making fierce pushes toward progress, while keeping a soft touch for weaker sectors who are impacted and swept up in those pushes.

In the big picture, while State Comptroller Joseph Shapira recently leveled heavy criticism at the previous government for not addressing the housing crisis, he also said that there was a problematic attitude dating back to the Olmert government and even almost 15 years back, to the Sharon government.

That means that part of the reason we are in a crisis now is we have forgotten many of the above values and started to leave behind not only weaker sectors of society, but also the middle class.

Another key Jewish value, strength, was forgotten by the Romans, to their peril.

Rome forgot the importance of strength during the reign of the Caesar Tyranus (98-117) when it over-expanded for the sake of expansion, without maintaining sufficient resources to facilitate the expansion and maintain the existing empire.

Renowned author Edward Luttwak wrote in his major work on the Roman empire that when Rome eventually fell, it was not weakness but rather failure to follow certain principles that allowed rival powers to surpass it. It emphasized quantity and superficial symbols of success over quality.

When quality and the other of the six traits have been discarded, existing and established economic empires ceased to flourish and began declining until they were completely destroyed.

As the country necessarily fast-tracks and expands the housing supply, quality must not be forgotten and the underlying purpose of improving the lives of the workers involved and those people who need lower-cost housing must be front and center at all times.

We do not need to end up like the Roman empire. There is still time for us to fix and strengthen our nation-building process while also helping individual businesses improve their performance.

May the values of the past, embodied in this time of the Jewish year and some of the above-mentioned great Jewish and non-Jewish leaders of the past and present, inspire us to rise to the occasion to create a better future.

The author served for over 20 years in the IDF, recently retiring after running a key IDF spokesman’s department dealing with multimedia.

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