Opinion | The blessing and potential curse of prosperity

Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef (Via JNS.org)

By Douglas Altabef

The history of the rebirth of Israel had very little to do with material wealth. The ethos of the kibbutz movement was actually profoundly anti-materialistic, and often self-righteously so.

Many kibbutznikim had been middle-class Europeans who abandoned a bourgeois lifestyle in favor of a more rugged, direct and land-enthralled one of collective responsibility. Material wealth was often frowned upon as being decadent or, at a minimum, a hindrance to the work at hand, which was the restoration of the land under Jewish sovereignty.

Under the sway of socialist-oriented governments and leadership, Israel had a lackluster economy for decades. And the specter of material wealth was the province of “the 18 families,” a sliver of the population who were out-and-out rich. There was a small middle class and the immigrants who, as the old joke went, came to Israel to become millionaires by arriving as multi-millionaires.

The story of Israel’s economy and wealth-accumulation during the past 20 years stands in stark contrast to its prior history. The confluence of several factors, including a brain in-migration, an ethos of innovation and high-risk tolerance and reduced governmental regulation and restriction, all combined to create the “start-up nation.”

Nowhere has that advancement been as prominent, pronounced or visible as in the technology sector. While it is estimated that approximately 10% of Israel’s workforce is devoted to tech, the per capita impact of tech workers is estimated at somewhere between 20 and 30% of Israel’s economic output and wealth creation.

In other words, workers in tech are higher paid, in many cases vastly higher paid, than the average Israeli.

While we could devote chapters to the implications of a booming tech sector, suffice it to say that it’s a mixed blessing. Such prosperity has filled the tax coffers of the government, enabling it to do more on behalf of the broader population. Tech success has had a pronounced ripple effect, creating and benefiting service industries and providing for more variety and diversity in areas like food and clothing and, for those who can afford it, housing and automobiles.

So where does the downside lie? First of all, disparities of wealth have always been with us, and likely always will. There has been, however, understandable concern about the increasing, almost unprecedented, disparities of wealth that now define much of the West.

Every year, the global elite gather in Davos, Switzerland, to validate their own economic supremacy and to play at being an unaccountable super-legislature on behalf of the rest of us. Most recently, the Davos crew has initiated the Great Global Reset, which is an initiative that, under their auspices, will address climate change and other global issues, such as population growth. Basically, these are plutocratic initiatives, where the oligarchs of wealth and privilege are deciding what is in the best interests of the rest of us.

The trend, therefore, is toward more internationalism, here economically driven, and a decoupling of elites from their own nations.

How does all of this affect Israel? The answer today is that we do not yet know, but the country should be very concerned and prepared to do all it can to prevent this phenomenon of bifurcation from taking place.

While every society strives for unity, Israel’s is ultimately dependent on it. Few, if any, countries in the world — certainly not the wealthy, developed countries of the West — are facing existential threats on their borders. Such threats have typically fostered a sense of unity, a bedrock understanding that, regardless of our other differences, Israelis must stand together or we will all fall together.

Prosperity in Israel is a great blessing, but one that needs to be directed toward the greater good of its citizens, and not ever to be allowed to become a dividing wedge.

Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. This originally ran on JNS.org.

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