Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Human Failings

In the last century Western governments have been modeled on one of two major economic paradigms: capitalism and socialism.  Reading the financial pages these days it seems both systems have entered a stage of failure, albeit for different reasons.
As the European Union is discovered, socialism is a lost cause because most people are, at heart, selfish.  While the Communist Manifesto declared that the ideal society would be based on "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" the average person in the West seems to function on a maladaptive version of this credo: "From each as little as he can get away with, to each as much as he can grab".  As the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Green, Spain) are discovering, much to the dismay of the Germans for whom a hard day's work is still a virtue, you cannot indefinitely run a society where no one pays taxes but everyone expects a shortened work week and a generous tray of social services.
As the United States is slowly but surely discovering, unfettered capitalism is failing for a different reason: most people are also, at heart, greedy.  Given a choice between a fast buck and doing right by society at large, they will grab the fast buck and hide behind the doors of their mansion hoping that the consequences of their actions remain out there in someone else's neighbourhood.  "I want" trumps "We need" every time.  As the Americans are discovering, a society where the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor is constantly growing will eventually result in financial turmoil that even the very wealthy cannot avoid.
In a reminder that not everything in Israel is connected to the so-called peace process we are now seeing the result of the mismanagement of both types of systems.  Remember that until the early 1990's Israel had a very centralized, socialist economy.  Dominated by huge unions who claims fealty to the false god of minimal productivity, the society management to stumble along surviving on the need to do something to prevent the enemy across the border from invading and the leftover remnants of the once-proud Zionist work ethic.
In the mid 1990's Israel shifted from a socialist command economy to a free-wheeling capitalist version and, like the Russians around the same time, did it far too quickly and without any checks and balances on who would benefit.  The result is a society in which a vanishingly small percentage of the population (some estimate it at a dozen families or so) hold the vast majority of wealth in the country and see the rest of society as a money-soaked sponge that needs a good squeezing so they can increase their fortunes even more.  The poor are getting poorer and now even the middle-class is getting shoved down by the high cost of living.  Hence the huge protests that are rumbling through society.
Let us be clear: this mess is not the sole fault of the current government.  Blame must be shared by pretty much every government that Israel has had since 1948.  Unfortunately, Ben Gurion and friends are not likely to emerge from their graves to help out any time soon which means this all falls on poor Bibi Netanyahu's shoulders.  One must feel sorry for the guy.  A few months ago he was basking in record approval ratings following his much-needed dressing down of BH Obama, the president who would be philosopher king.
Now he's in the tank as Israelis recall that in the absence of any progress on the so-called peace talks there are lots of other economic issues they're getting screwed by and which the government is doing nothing about.
I'm sure Bibi would like to make things better for the vast majority of Israelis.  Only a hated-filled moron would believe otherwise (and Israel has no small surfeit of those).  However at the same time his party and next election campaign will be fueled by money from those families who are quite content with how the situation is right now (as long as the police keep the rowdies away from their lawns and country clubs).  How to balance the two?
The danger in situations like this is that a new political movement will be formed that will reach out to the two awful middos detailed above.  It will be a party that caters to the feelings of greed that people without wealth feel when they see their aristocratic comrades driving around in their fancy cars.  It will also cater to people's selfishness, insisting that they are right to demand the moon without having to pay for it.
One can only hope that Netanyahu can start to make some sense out of this mess and that the protesters will move beyond petty slogans and work with him to make positive changes in Israel.

1 comment:

Bob Miller said...

It's been generations since capitalism was last unfettered. What we now seem to have is big govt + big labor + big business as a combine.