Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Begin and Jabotinsky and Israel's Economy

Zev Golan, who directs the Center for Public Policy at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS), published an appreciation of Milton Friedman which included this relevant material:-

Ze’ev Jabotinsky was another major figure in the Zionist movement opposed by the establishment because of, among other things, his support for economic freedom.

Jabotinsky believed “every individual is a king” and the state should not impair his freedom. He noted that freedom of speech and assembly, majority rule, equality for all – are ideals that socialism combats. Practically, he advocated an end to the Histadrut’s monopoly over labor in Eretz Israel, which was preventing non-socialists from getting work.

This summer marks the centenary of the birth of economist Milton Friedman...Academics are divided on the question of whether Friedman influenced the policies of Menachem Begin, who became prime minister in 1977, the year after Friedman won his prize. The truth is Begin’s commitment to economic liberty drew from the teachings of his mentor Jabotinsky, as well as from the time he spent in Soviet jails and labor camps, and he advocated free markets all through the 1950s and 1960s.

“Private initiative is the least expensive and most efficient system,” said Begin, but he said his commitment to the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was based on the Bible’s statement that man – all persons of all religions, nationalities and races – is created in God’s image.

Jabotinsky wrote that the Bible is full of social protest, but not socialism. Its economic and social policy is one of freedom; rather than forbid or control economic activity, it deals with any negative results by means of institutions such as the Sabbath, tithing, the gleanings and corners of the field that were left for the poor, and the Jubilee.

Begin had always opposed Israel’s state-based centralized economy and as prime minister worked to end the government’s foreign currency controls and liberalize the economy.

The current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is from the Jabotinsky-Begin school, and he, too, emphasizes the importance of markets and liberty.

Over the decades, Israel’s leaders have sought charity and foreign aid rather than investment. Herzl, Brandeis and Jabotinsky must have turned over in their graves.

...The irony is that though Zionism was long identified with the socialist kibbutzim, even they have been bailed out by taxpayers and are now building shopping centers. Yet the bureaucracy still wants to grow at the expense of private individuals. Israelis would do well to reflect on the relationship between their heritage and economic liberty. It’s all so ironic – for if the vision of such greats as Herzl, Brandeis and Jabotinsky were to be realized, Israel would not need foreign aid, its citizens would not need to take to the streets to protest high prices and taxes, and secular Israelis might not be so put off by their encounter with state-enforced religion.


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