Last updated: January 14, 2008
January 7, 2008
Once upon a time Israel was held to be the most egalitarian society in the Western world according to dr. Dan Ben-David. And it was not so long ago.
"Which country today has the greatest equality?... If we confine ourselves to the non-communist world, it has been suggested that the new state of Israel may lead the list." So wrote Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson in his book "Economics" - a text that became the bible of every first-year economics student in the Western world during the '50s, '60s and part of the '70s. This is how Israel was introduced to an entire generation of economists by one of the most important leaders in the field.
Something went wrong since then though.
Today, the Israel that will be celebrating its 60th birthday is less "new," and to the title of the list that it currently leads it is necessary to add the prefix "in-" - as in "inequality." A badge of honor, it is not.
But What exactly is this something that went wrong? "There is little argument about the need to grant compensation for excellence as a means of providing incentives for achievement," writes Ben-David in Haaretz. "Similarly," he says,
. . . it makes no sense that envy should become the binoculars through which the majority views society's most successful. But along with yesteryear's socialist bathwater, we appear to have also thrown out our community conscience and social compass. Salaries beginning with the number 7 and followed by 3 zeroes reflect the national average. But in a country where that is the average, monthly salaries that begin with the same number but are followed by 5 zeroes (or more) long ago surpassed - in most cases - not only the boundaries of propriety but also the boundaries of economic rationale.
Few in Israel remain unconvinced that these insane salaries are the source of our leap from the forefront of egalitarian countries in the 60's to heading the list of most unequal Western countries this decade
So far so good. Haaretz readers were sure thinking that they are in for a familiar ride of bashing the 18 families that own Israel while the bottom decile is digging in waste bins for food. Here comes a shocker as Ben-David turns tables on his readers:
The problem is that this is just another example of the easy life that we make for ourselves when the issue of inequality is raised and the focus invariably turns to those maddening examples, instead of to the actual crux of the problem.
And here comes a diagram by means of which Ben-David gets straight to the crux of the problem. Here it is:
The graph compares inequality at 1967 at the heyday of Israeli socialism with 2006, a few years after Bibi has delivered his crushing free market reforms. It's not difficult to calculate the income gap between the top and bottom deciles using the graph. For example in the year 1967 the income gap between the two bottom deciles was 117%. Take the bottom decile as a base, say 100%, and multiply it by 2.17. You will get 217. The income gap between the third and second deciles in that year was 38%. Multiply 217 by 1.38 and you get 299.46 which means the income gap between the third and bottom deciles was 200%. And so on until you reach the top decile. And if I do my arithmetics correctly the income gap between the two deciles has actually decreased over that period.
Ben-David has apparently arrived at the same conclusion. In the modern capitalist Israel the income gap between the top and bottom deciles is actually lower than it was in the good old days of the Mapai socialism.
In fact the income gap has remained virtually unchanged between the top and the ninth deciles, while there was a dramatic decrease in the three bottom deciles with the income gap between the third and the bottom one falling from 300% to 200% and, as I said, the overall income gap between the top and bottom deciles seems to have fallen too.
This is not to say that inequality in Israel has not increased. But, according to Ben-David, its increase has nothing to do with how the populist media and socially oriented bleeding hearts explain the fact that Israel is now at the top of lists constructed by using more sophisticated inequality indices.
But, in contrast with conventional wisdom, most of the increase in Israeli income gaps did not result from the very wealthiest leaving the rest of us in the dust, nor did it come from society discarding its very poorest farther and farther behind. The bulk of the increase in income disparity came from gaps that became increasingly wider between each of the middle income deciles. Each of the income lanes in the central boulevard of Israeli society has moved farther and farther from the others.
In other words, the crux of the matter is that in terms of inequality the difference between 1967 and 2006 is in disintegration of the center. In some other respects the situation has actually improved.
But the real crux of the matter is not even the confusion surrounding the issue of inequality. If Ben-David is right (and even if he is not), the crux of the matter is to what degree worn out and overused cliches dominate the public debate in Israel on social issues and actually on every issue.
Take whatever social issue: Poverty
, Ashkenazi Mizrahi divide
... And you see the same. It's the media that is constantly looking for new opportunities to start another mass hysteria. It's the self appointed mahatma-gandhis that explain every social problem by racism and discrimination. It's the bleeding hearts that bleed their hearts for any reason and without as a form of hobby. They are the crux of the problem.
The links to discussions provided in the end of the article are provided only because in the process of these discussions I have opportunity to explain myself. Not necessarily because people I was talking to are examples of bleeding hearts and mahatmas.January 14, 2008Gandhism for Dummies
A comment of mine did not pass through Ynet moderators. I think it would be useful to compare here the original article and the blocked comment. On one hand it should make it very clear what sort of emotional response in its readers the socially oriented reporting is trying to manufacture. On the other, what sort of feedback from its readers it does not need.
Betraying our immigrants
Decision to close down immigrant language schools like cutting off someone’s tongue
Ever since the first reports about the decision to close down ulpans (language schools for immigrants), I have been waiting for them: Authors who write in Hebrew, men of letters, great lovers of the language.
I am waiting for their furious petition, or even a demonstration outside the Education Ministry. I am waiting for them to say in a loud and clear voice that closing down ulpans is like cutting off someone’s tongue; like forced silence; like spiritual death forced upon thousands of people.
. . .
But how will they speak Hebrew without language schools for adults? They will speak a little, mumble even, with pain, and complete alienation, and despair. They will feel the incredibly justified sense that they were betrayed, and that nobody was there to help them out when they did not understand what is going on around them, because everyone around them uses a language that had been blocked to them.
And how will they be reading books in Hebrew? They will not be reading, unless the speakers, authors, and teachers of this beautiful and stubborn language stand up and insist that it belongs to everyone, every single person - to the last immigrant who is getting off the plane right now and staring at the old-new homeland, not knowing yet that he has been sentenced to silence.
This is the comment:
Another piece of misinformation
The author should have mentioned that the absorption ministry has decided to close down ulpans because it intends to outsource teaching Hebrew to private schools.
Two reasons were given for this. First, a few surveys conducted recently pointed to the low quality of teaching in state ulpans. The idea to outsource teaching Hebrew to private schools is partly based on the assumption that these schools that specialize in teaching foreign languages should be better in doing this than state ulpans.
Second. The rate of immigration was very unstable recently and very low in the last years. In this situation to maintain a network of state ulpans just for an occasion a bih aliyah happens is wasteful and so the absorption ministry prefers to hire services of private schools on demand.