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Milton Friedman on Israel and Jewish Support for Socialism:

David Bernstein's post on the excesses of Israeli socialist ideology remind me of Milton Friedman's 1972 essay, "Capitalism and the Jews: Confronting a Paradox," (I haven't been able to find an online link, but it's available in Kurt R. Leube ed., The Essence of Friedman at 43-57 (1987)). Friedman addressed the interesting question of why Jews tend to be hostile to capitalism and sympathetic to socialism despite the fact that, historically, Jews have been most successful and most tolerated in those societies where free markets and civil society were relatively unfettered, and suffered most from anti-semitism in highly socialized and statist economies (worst of all under Soviet socialism and, of course, Hitler's National Socialism).

He argues that Jewish support for socialism was partly a reaction to the fact that in 19th and 20th century Europe, the right-wing parties tended to be nationalistic and anti-semitic, so that Jews were naturally drawn to their political opponents (at the time mostly socialists and statist liberals). More interestingly, Friedman suggests that Jewish socialism was in part a reaction to the stereotype of the Jew as a greedy capitalist, an attempt to "prove" the stereotype wrong. He specifically references Israeli attitudes as the most extreme manifestation of this mentality. And in fact early socialist Zionist ideology emphasized the need to reject the stereotypes associated with Diaspora Jews; socialist Zionists called for what they called "Negation of the Diaspora." They especially decried the association of Diaspora Jews with trading and capitalist commercial enterprise, but also (to a lesser extent), private philanthropy and civil society organizations of the kind foolishly denounced by Israel's socialist Defense Minister Amir Peretz, quoted in David's post.

Despite Peretz's idiotic comments, my impression is that "Negation of the Diaspora" and its associated anti-capitalism is a less powerful force in Israeli political culture today than it was early in the state's history. Hopefully, attitudes like Peretz's are on the way out.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on Milton Friedman and Israel:
  2. Milton Friedman on Israel and Jewish Support for Socialism:
  3. Talk about your tired Socialism:
JB:
I always thought that Jewish Socialism was a reflection of the communalist ethos of the ghetto.

They'd been so used to helping one another with everything so they all would survive, that they kept with it in times of greater prosperity.

But then, my family's primarily former Russian Jews, so perhaps those from more capitalist countries had other ideas.
11.17.2006 12:25am
Ilya Somin:
I always thought that Jewish Socialism was a reflection of the communalist ethos of the ghetto.

They'd been so used to helping one another with everything so they all would survive, that they kept with it in times of greater prosperity.


The "communalist ethos of the ghetto" was not socialism and indeed predated socialism by hundreds of years. Jewish communal life in the ghetto era was based on (mostly) voluntary cooperation, not on state control of economic life and civil society (as under socialism).
11.17.2006 12:59am
Timon Braun (mail) (www):
I am reading Seymour Lipset's history of Socialist marginality in America and he points out that "the New York party's following was primarily among Jewish immigrant workers who, hailing largely from areas ruled by the anti-Semitic Russian czar, did not support the Allies." If Socialists were on the right side against the Czar and the Fascists in matters of life and death, there is some basis for loyalty of the type that takes a few generations to wear off. It is also easy to overstate the power of libertarian critiques of planned economies in hindsight, when in fact the subtlety and elegance of arguments like Friedman's have never been understood by more than an exceptionally gifted few.
11.17.2006 2:30am
brachiator (mail) (www):
I think that to a great extent our "socialistic" tendencies derive from the old scriptures, including the Tanakh. When not advocating murder, rape and genocide, the scriptures provide a reasonably progressive economics, including the Jubilee year and gleaning rights. Redistribution of wealth doesn't get anymore authority-driven than when commanded by God, especially our bloodthirsty tyrant.
11.17.2006 2:38am
Nick W. (mail):
Read your Torah. Eretz Yisrael isn't supposed to be some capitalist fantasy land. I'm sorry if that bothers you.
11.17.2006 4:02am
M (mail):
Do you really think that anti-semitism was worse in the Soviet Union than under th Tzar? Do you mean that even under rulers other than Stalin? That sounds pretty unlikely to me, since there were not organized pograms and the like. Of course Tzarist Russia wasn't a liberal state and only ever had a rudimentary market economy so that doesn't show that anti-semitism doesn't decreas in market economies but it does seem to indicate that part of the claim is dubious. And, if anything, anti-semitism has risen quite a lot in Russia over the last several years in Russia, not deceased, as economic markets have taken more hold. (Russia is still, of course, far from being as much of a market economy as most weastern european countries, though, I think.) Finally, you've obviously got an overly-narrow conception of socialism, since it's generally accepted that the oldest forms of socialism were religiously based.
11.17.2006 4:55am
Kevin P. (mail):
So then isn't socialism a violation of the "wall between church and state" ?
11.17.2006 8:46am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Not sharing this ancestry and background of the rest of the posters here, this aspect of much of Jewish identity in this country has always interested me. It has been especially bothersome in my attempts to bring Jewish friends over to the Dark Side (i.e. conservatism). A couple of nights ago, I found myself in an economics discussion with one friend well versed in the Chicago School, who would admit my basic points on the inability of government to do much well, but every time I tried to bring the discussion around to politics, would hit a brick wall - with the discussion immediately shifting from the merits of the case to the personal failings of a long list of those on the right (ignoring, of course, similar, if not worse, personal failings of those on the left).

Of course, in this forum, what is interesting is that this socialist / progressive attitude seems far more prevelant in those descended from earlier Jewish immigrants, as compared to immigrants from Soviet Block countries (who presumably experienced attempts at Communism (and socialism) first or second hand). From that, I would suggest that the 19th Century experiences of ancesters who immigrated in the later 19th and earlier 20th Centuries may be more important than Judaism itself.
11.17.2006 9:17am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
And just stop the right wing canard that "National Socialism" was socialist. It was no more socialist than Franco's Fascist state in Spain was conservative because they called themselves "Republicans". The Nazis used the rhetoric of socialism to build their base but except for the industries they seized from enemies of the state (e.g., the Jews), they never nationalized any industries, and even those businesses were mostly turned over to private concerns, not turned into state concerns.

Nazi Germany may be described as crony capitalism or a kleptocracy, but socialism, hardly. Germany's control of the economy never even reached the level of centralization and planning that ours did during World War II. Granted, it was mostly due to the sheer incompetence and corruption of the Nazi leadership in handling their war economy. But unless you are saying the U.S. was socialist during WWII (and I'm sure some of you would), don't call the Nazis socialist.

As for Russia. Even before the Revolution, the rural economy ran on a communal, and by your loose definition, socialist, model. After the serfs were freed in the 1860s, land was held communally by the village. Individual families did not own land but only their livestock. Even fields were divided row by row, assigned each year by the village elders, rather than by plot, leading to extremely inefficient agriculture. Land reform was just getting under way at the time of the revolution.
11.17.2006 9:22am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Like it or not, Christianity and Judaism at their core are socialistic religions. They are all about giving of yourself and putting the needs of others and the community above those of the individual. Jesus pissed off the leadership of the established Jewish power structure not because what he taught was heretical but because he spoke the truth.
11.17.2006 9:52am
Houston Lawyer:
I take issue with the notion that Christianity is at its core socialistic. There are a number of parables told by Jesus in which the more profitable actor was held up as the better actor. I'd say there is little support for socialism in the New Testament. It is not an economics textbook.
11.17.2006 10:01am
JB:
Ilya: Well yeah, but when you have people used to communalism suddenly get to decide on a preferred form of government, what do you think they'll choose?
11.17.2006 10:38am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I take issue with the notion that Christianity is at its core socialistic. There are a number of parables told by Jesus in which the more profitable actor was held up as the better actor.

You can spin Jesus' teachings all you want, and maybe socialistic is too strong a word. But to wonder why observant Jews or Christians who bother to actually take the words of Jesus or the Talmad seriously tend to support social welfare programs rather than be Ayn Rand devotees or Milton Friedman laissez faire capitalists doesn't isn't really a much harder question than which group (animals, workers, or consumers) gets the short end of the stick at McDonalds.
11.17.2006 10:59am
buddingeconomist:
"As for Russia. Even before the Revolution, the rural economy ran on a communal, and by your loose definition, socialist, model."

Its true that the mir were communal and land ownership was rotated - and extremely inefficient - but there was still private ownership (some of land, not insignificant to the economy, and as you point out, all of livestock etc). Though Jews were segregated into communities and discriminated against, they were better off in an absolute sense than under socialism, though worse off in relative terms.

Before socialism Jews could do well for themselves and their families if they got into business, they could also get officer positions in the army I believe and skilled positions in the ranked positions for the state (though they hit a ceiling) and through that route gain prestige.

Under socialism they were often treated better - though not always, and under Stalin were targeted as kulaks disporportionatly - but everyone was worse off. They could no longer do well for themselves through business, of course, and anti-semitism did not disappear.
11.17.2006 11:46am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
buddingeconomist,

I was merely pointing out that "the fact that, historically, Jews have been most successful and most tolerated in those societies where free markets and civil society were relatively unfettered, and suffered most from anti-semitism in highly socialized and statist economies" is not a fact at all and that the situation in Europe was much more complex than Ilya or Milton Friedman (apparently) would have us believe. The Nazis weren't socialist, pre-Revolutionary Russia wasn't kind to Jews and post-Revolution, the Jews weren't particularly worse off than any other group.
11.17.2006 12:09pm
Guest12 (mail):
It seems like Law and Econ is just the latest dialectical twist on Jews and socialism. It starts with the idea that economics is the driving force in life and just turns Marx on his head, much as Marx did to Hegel. (Also note that Posner was a Red Diaper baby).
11.17.2006 12:42pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
J.F., Ilya said "free markets AND civil society" were relatively unfettered. You're not claiming that Nazi Germany and czarist Russia kept their hands off civil society? Indeed, the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in Berlin was largely a failure, so they brought the law in. And surely czarist Russia was not a free market society, and by your own lights, Nazi Germany was at best "crony capitalism", which is one example of the kind of system Jews don't thrive in (in the old days in the U.S., Jews were rarely hired by regulated industries that thrived on cronyism, such as banks and utility companies).
11.17.2006 12:46pm
ys:
Do you really think that anti-semitism was worse in the Soviet Union than under th Tzar? Do you mean that even under rulers other than Stalin?

The answer is yes and no. In the time of the Tzar, certain discriminatory rules were a matter of government policy but they were open and could be discussed and in particular criticized by a significant slice of Russian liberal intelligentsia without fear of being severely punished for criticism. Plus, since the rules were open, people knew, what was required, e.g., how to deal with quotas in educational institutions, residence permits, etc. In the Soviet times, any public discussion of similar quotas and restrictions was impossible, post-Stalin times very much included. Of course, there was no open official anti-semitism and the terms used were cosmopolitans, zionists, and other euphemisms. True, the pogroms did not have the Soviet equivalent outside of Stalin's times, but the danger for Jews was much more everyday and pervasive under Stalin, if not as savagely "picturesque." Add also, that the steamvalve was open in the Tzar's time, hence, the big wave washing through Ellis Island. Not the case under the Soviets, even counting limited opportunities in the 70's, until the actual empire started falling apart.
Finally, for the recent rise of anti-semitism, I believe that this is in large part coming out into the open rather than simply created from nothing. But it's the cost of lifting (at least some) oppression from everybody. Conversely, anti-semitism can now be discussed and criticized publicly, including by the government, whereas in the past even the neutral word for "Jew" was shameful and to be avoided, except in street talk (of course "kike" was used more often in that context).
11.17.2006 12:54pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Ilya said "free markets AND civil society" were relatively unfettered

Yes but then he gives one example where the free market was relatively unfettered (Nazi Germany) and another where it the driving force behind the oppression wasn't anti-semitism in particular, but rather just the general bad lot of living in a horrible society. If anything, Jews were probably "better off" in Soviet Russia as a group than they were under the Tsars (not that life was easier or materially better, but that they were less likely to be discriminated against simply for being of Jewish descent, and a religiously observant orthodox Christian would be equally suspect as a religiously observant Jew, so there was a leveling of religious discrimination).
11.17.2006 1:01pm
buddingeconomist:
"so there was a leveling of religious discrimination"

Yay! We can all be equally oppressed!
11.17.2006 1:05pm
M (mail):
You're right, of course, that much of the xenophobia and anti-semitism coming out now in Russia is a result of old pent-up feeling. But, you'll be awfully hard pressed to find any serious criticsm of it in the mainstream press there, or any serious criticism of it by the government since nearly all of them share the views. The nationalist views are being used as a tool by the government there now in a quite scarry way, one they likely won't be able to control, but are, I think, generally shared by the rulling class as well.
11.17.2006 1:20pm
whimsy:
Ketubot 50a
R. Elai stated: It was ordained at Usha that if a man wishes to spend liberally (on tzedakah) he should not spend more than a fifth (of what he owns).

So it was also taught: If a man desires to spend liberally he should not spend more than a fifth, [since by spending more] he might himself come to be in need [of the help] of people.


As I think the above passage illustrates, Judaism is not a socialistic religion and much of Talmud is concerned with private property including the classic question of the gored ox. Demanding social responsibility and concern for others less fortunate is not contrary to capitalism. Laissaiz faire refers to role of government and has no bearing on personal behavior. Indeed, I suspect that personal charity is probably decreased in socialistic economies because it is assumed that the government is taking care of problems with money from raised from (usually high) taxes revenues and that there is no need for individuals to contribute anything additional. Does anyone know the figures on private charitable contributions in the US and Europe?
11.17.2006 1:35pm
buddingeconomist:
"Does anyone know the figures on private charitable contributions in the US and Europe?"

Yes, I have looked at that. You will find higher private charitable giving in the US than in Europe, except for in certain isolated incidents such as the Tsunami where eg the UK exceeded the US in the end possibly in private giving, perhaps due to the British Indian population. Otherwise the US per capita private charitable giving tends to be higher than any country in Europe. I forget where I found this, sorry to not cite a source.
11.17.2006 1:42pm
buddingeconomist:
Well here is a source (or an article which cites some actual sources).
11.17.2006 1:47pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Yay! We can all be equally oppressed!

I knew I was on a shaky path. But to argue that Jews were oppressed in Soviet Russia simply because they were Jewish is overlooking a lot of factors other than ethnicity/religious identity that resulted in oppression in Soviet Russia.
11.17.2006 2:39pm
Houston Lawyer:
So, JF, all who take what Jesus says seriously must agree with your interpretation. Social welfare programs used to be known as charity, which is a far cry from communalism.
11.17.2006 2:42pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
If they give some blood, maybe they could get an extra 15 minutes on the exam. If they sign their organ donor cards, maybe you could let them skip a test question?

I think some of the discussion here makes me think of how some workplaces handle the United Way drives.

Sure you have to encourage charitable giving, and some professions are more "competitive", but at some point, doesn't it get a bit silly for adults, who could easily donate $20 to an organization and probably annually donate on their own time? Really, you don't have to bribe people to give cheap canned food and macaroni boxes. It worked in high school, but law school or the workplace? Silly
11.17.2006 2:59pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Of course, if Stalin had lived a few more years, he would have succeeded in his pending plan to deport all the USSR's Jews to Siberia, which, for all the czars' badness, well exceeds their crimes.
11.17.2006 3:01pm
MnZ (mail):
If anything, Jews were probably "better off" in Soviet Russia as a group than they were under the Tsars (not that life was easier or materially better, but that they were less likely to be discriminated against simply for being of Jewish descent, and a religiously observant orthodox Christian would be equally suspect as a religiously observant Jew, so there was a leveling of religious discrimination).


It is true that, relative to Christians (particularly, Russian Orthodox), Jews (as a religion) were officially "better off" under Soviet rule than Tsarist rule. (I.e., the policy was to persecute both equally.) However, it is difficult to say whether this was true in practice.

First of all, Russian anti-Semitism made Jews targets for political opportunists and the Soviet secret police. Second, Jews ethnic identity made renouncing their religion difficult to both define and prove. Third, the Soviet Union had an official and violent hostility to Zionism. Fourth, Jews tended to be in demographic groups that were oppressed under Soviet rule (e.g., business owners, financiers, academics, intellectuals).
11.17.2006 3:32pm
buddingeconomist:
"Fourth, Jews tended to be in demographic groups that were oppressed under Soviet rule (e.g., business owners, financiers, academics, intellectuals)."

And very often this combined with anti-semitism such that all Jews were assumed to be "kulaks" and treated as such.
11.17.2006 4:01pm
Dan Simon (www):
It's not the case that "Jews tend to be hostile to capitalism and sympathetic to socialism". Rather, secular Jews have tended to be sympathetic to socialism--though more out of hostility to religious Judaism than to capitalism. Religious Jews, on the other hand, never exhibited anything like the same attraction to socialism.

Among late-19th- and early-20th-century Jews, socialism--along with Zionism, as a matter of fact--was primarily a statement of rebellion against religious orthodoxy, not capitalism. Its appealing features were secular intellectualism, social and sexual libertarianism, and internationalist universalism (or, in the case of Zionism, secular "nation like all others" nationalism)--all explicit contrasts with the narrow intellectual focus, puritanism and religious particularism and separatism that informed traditional Jewish thought and practice.

Today's secular Jews tend to be conventional liberal Democrats, not socialists, but their preoccupations haven't changed much: they may occasionally complain about corporate greed, but their real bugbears are uneducated populists, puritanical religious zealots and exclusivist white (or Jewish) racists. Their liberalism is not a rejection of capitalism--far from it, in most cases. It's not mammon they're rejecting, but God.
11.17.2006 5:20pm
ys:

but that they were less likely to be discriminated against simply for being of Jewish descent

As I mentioned in my previous posting, even uttering the word "Jew" was made shameful and not done lightly.

It is true that, relative to Christians (particularly, Russian Orthodox), Jews (as a religion) were officially "better off" under Soviet rule than Tsarist rule. (I.e., the policy was to persecute both equally.) However, it is difficult to say whether this was true in practice.

Well, I was surprised to find in a textbook of biblical history which my father used while in the 3d grade under the czars, that it was developed and published specifically for students of Judaic faith under the supervision of the Ministry for Public Enlightenment. Needless to say, that while the Russian Patriarchate was allowed to occasionally publish a (hard to get) Russian edition of the bible, the only counterpart on the Jewish side was the propaganda sheet "Sovietische Heimland"
11.17.2006 5:32pm
Vovan:

Of course, if Stalin had lived a few more years, he would have succeeded in his pending plan to deport all the USSR's Jews to Siberia, which, for all the czars' badness, well exceeds their crimes.


Of course, that was a big part of the reason why he did not live for a few more years..., but you conveniently neglect that part...
11.17.2006 6:07pm
ys:

Of course, that was a big part of the reason why he did not live for a few more years..., but you conveniently neglect that part...


You are not saying Stalin's henchmen killed him to save the Jews rather than their own hides, are you? Is there evidence that he wanted World War III and all his cosmopolitans hunt was just a way to provoke it, not to mention the evidence that it would indeed have provoked it in the nuclear age? Nothing happened in connection with Hungary 3 years later and nobody was killed to prevent the invasion.
11.17.2006 7:10pm
Byomtov (mail):
Jews have been most successful and most tolerated in those societies where free markets and civil society were relatively unfettered, and suffered most from anti-semitism in highly socialized and statist economies (worst of all under Soviet socialism and, of course, Hitler's National Socialism).

As others have pointed out, despite the name, Nazism was not particularly socialist. And while the Soviet Union was clearly anti-Semitic it is far from obvious that it was worse than Czarist Russia in this regard. Indeed, it is likely that Soviet anti-Semitism had little to do with ideology and much to do with historic Russian attitudes towards Jews.
11.17.2006 9:35pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As others have pointed out, despite the name, Nazism was not particularly socialist.
But it was, as Ilya mentioned, "statist." It was collectivist. Whether it was socialist or some other variant on collectivism really isn't important, for these purposes.
11.18.2006 6:35pm