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.

At a recent conference at Tel Aviv University’s School of Government, a gathering that was supposed to feature an academic discussion on the desired distribution of income to be derived from the finding of natural gas off our shores, was an example of how politics are taking over our universities. Sponsored by the New Israel Fund and three organizations affiliated with it, the conference espoused a political agenda whose conclusions were 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 – afflicting our universities is their increasing politicization.
Large chunks of the social sciences and humanities departments are dominated by tenured professors who, under the guise of academic freedom, promote a postmodernist nihilism (i.e. since all knowledge is merely 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 dictatorial it will be, and how oppressive the Palestinians already are to their own people.
Our “social-minded” liberals also uphold a neo-Marxist ideology, hostile to free markets and growth. They have brainwashed generations of students, indoctrinating them with an ideology that 50 years ago, when the horrors of communism were not yet famous, they had absorbed as innocent students.
SUCH REGRESSIVE views have done enormous damage to the Israeli economy and society. A damaging ethos of “welfarism” and distributive politics has come to dominate not only 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, a 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 that 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 has 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 why the economy, endowed with enormous potential, the best human capital in the world, and hundreds of billions from foreign investors, has performed – until the recent pro-market reforms– like a Third- World economy. The continued domination by a few tycoons and their oligopolies is a continuing reason why the economy can’t fulfill its great potential.
Our academics 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 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 academics 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 economy, still replete with government intervention and government-sanctioned monopolies or entry barriers, is capitalist; “Thatcherite”, no less.) Our academics have therefore stood aloof from the effort to break our economy’s excessive concentration of wealth and power.
Many of their pro-welfare organizations get substantial contributions from the tycoons, helping legitimize them.
To ostensibly protect the weakened strata that welfare keeps weak and dependent (since the high taxes required to maintain its proliferating bureaucracies and wasteful practices check growth and spread poverty), our academics have developed a complete theology of “rights” that the government (namely the taxpayer) must translate into entitlements. They are blind to the fact that, generally, government interventions in the economy help the politically privileged, but hurt the rest.
List all “underdeveloped” areas in the country, including the Negev, the Galilee and Jerusalem, and you get a list of places on which 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 academics’ advocacy of radical welfarism also makes a mockery of Zionism, which was originally meant to help Jews become productive, selfsufficient people. Instead, welfarism made Israelis dependent on a corrupt and corrupting political system that is forcing them to fight for government favors. But Marxism acts as blinders. Our academics cannot understand that a welfare state means big government, and big government is inevitably wasteful and corrupt.
Need we still prove why academic politicization is ruining the few last preserves where one can hold 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.
The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.