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Jewish World Review
July 31, 2009 / 10 Menachem-Av 5769
Gilder Throws Down a Gauntlet
Charles Murray, no slouch among public intellectuals, described
him as the most underrated public intellectual in America today. Murray
offered this assessment of George Gilder at a recent American Enterprise
Institute colloquium to discuss Gilder's newest book, "The Israel Test."
Murray explained: From Gilder's national debut with "Sexual Suicide" (later
reissued as "Men and Marriage"), to his seminal "Wealth and Poverty," to his
farsighted "Microcosm," Gilder makes being ahead of his times look easy.
And, Murray noted with admiration, Gilder has always been right.
Is Gilder underrated? Yes, because his gifts and contributions
deserve more or less full-time celebration.
After the probably trillions of words that have been devoted to
the Israel/Arab conflict, it is no small achievement to approach the matter
from a unique vantage point. Gilder's thesis is this: Today's hatred of
Israel is feeding off the same poison that has nourished anti-Semitism
throughout history envy, resentment, and misunderstanding of economics.
Gilder asks: "Are you for civilization or barbarism, life or death, wealth
or envy? Are you an exponent of excellence and accomplishment or of a
leveling creed of troglodytic frenzy and hatred?"
Jewish accomplishment is an undeniable fact of history. Many
(Murray included) have speculated about the disproportionate number of
Jewish intellectuals, musicians, millionaires, scientists and others. Gilder
(a Gentile) is interested less in the why of Jewish excellence than in its
consequences. A society that is organized to permit individuals to flourish
and to realize their potential (like the United States and post-1980s
Israel) will broadly share in the increased prosperity those individuals
help to create. A society (or a global system) that misunderstands wealth
creation and wishes to level society by penalizing success will make life
poorer for everyone.
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Gilder boldly declares that Jewish genius laid the foundation
for winning the Second World War and for the post-war prosperity that
followed. Jewish refugees from Hitler's Europe provided much of the
brainpower for the Manhattan Project. And Jewish geniuses including Albert
Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heinrich Hertz, John von Neumann, Richard Feynman, and
entrepreneurs like Andy Grove made indispensable contributions to the
information technology that forms the scaffolding of modern prosperity.
Israel has only recently become a technological and economic
powerhouse. It got there after a protracted dalliance with socialism that
gave Israel high unemployment, anemic growth, and inflation rates that
reached 1,000 percent in early 1985. Three catalysts changed everything: 1)
the influx of 1 million vehemently anti-socialist immigrants from the former
Soviet Union; 2) the addition of a far smaller but still consequential
cohort of American Jewish immigrants who had business experience and
expertise; and 3) economic reforms urged by Natan Sharansky and Bibi
Netanyahu. The results, Gilder writes, were "incandescent." He cites a 2008
Deloitte & Touche survey showing that in six key areas telecom,
microchips, software, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, and clean
energy "Israel ranked second only to the United States in technological
innovation." Israel's high-tech research and development puts it at the
center of the information revolution. Intel's microchips, Gilder notes,
might as well be tagged "Israel Inside."
But what has this to do with the Palestinians? In addition to
his guided tour through Israel's equivalent of Silicon Valley, Gilder also
provides a taut and clarifying economic and political history of the modern
Middle East. The economic piece is key, because Israelis have created
prosperity wherever they have touched ground in that otherwise listless part
of the globe. And Arabs have responded by flooding into areas they
previously disdained after Israelis made them habitable, even desirable. It
was so in the Yishuv (the new Jewish settlements in the Holy Land starting
in the 1880s). And after Israel reluctantly took control of the West Bank
and Gaza in 1967, the economy in the territories became one of the most
dynamic on earth, posting 30 percent annual growth. The Arab population,
along with per capita income, tripled.
Arabs are and have always been in a position to share in the
wealth created by Israel and to create their own. But they have flunked
the "Israel Test" by choosing envy and hatred. It's a test the outcome of
which, Gilder persuasively argues, will determine our own future as well.
Gilder has always been right. Read the book.
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