Who gets criticized?

Have you noticed that you never see thousands of women marching, chanting, or carrying signs protesting the enslavement of women by the Taliban? It’s also rare to see thousands of students protesting the Sudanese government’s atrocities in Darfur, or human rights violations by the Chinese government, or Hamas recruiting children to commit suicide by walking into crowded coffee shops in Tel Aviv with bombs strapped to their bodies.

Have you ever seen large crowds of women protesting the fact that their sisters in Saudi Arabia are being treated as second-class citizens, not even allowed to drive?

Yet all over the world, people burn American flags and scream how much they hate Israel at the top of their lungs.

Que pasa? What is going on? Is it hypocrisy? Is it blind, leftist bias?

Here is my insight:

If you passed a person on the street who started to curse and scream at you, you would probably get angry – until you realized that s/he was mentally ill. At that point, you would walk away, feeling sorry for him/her.

But what if the same behavior were exhibited by someone you know and whom you expect to be reasonable and logical? That’s different: In that case you would be extremely upset, and instead of walking away you would speak up and try to straighten him/her out.

What is the difference?

Many years ago, the biologist William Hamilton discovered a simple principle, for which he received the prestigious Crafoord Prize, awarded annually for outstanding work in a nonlinear science.

Hamilton’s discovery was the cost/benefit ratio principle  that says that  all of our behavior can be analyzed using this principle. For instance, it can explain the financial success of the fast-food industry: You get maximum calories for minimum effort. It explains why people try to find the closest parking spot to the entrance of the health club, although minutes later they intend to be running and sweating on the treadmill.

Protesting Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, Hamas, or the Chinese, is a waste of time. There is no benefit to such a protest; those groups and governments are unmoved by protest. They won’t listen.

On the other hand, the United States and Israel will listen. They can be reasoned with.

You cannot negotiate with a terrorist, reason with an addict, or prove a point with the type of spouse who is always right and believes you are always wrong.

Thus, our silence does not mean acceptance. Or apathy. It only means that we believe our chances of making a difference by marching and protesting is close to zero.

What about their cost benefit ratio?

If the above analysis is right , anytime we concede to them , they see a benefit to their behavior which makes them scream even harder at the Western world. We are feeding the monster…..

Israel at the tipping point?

In one of my previous blog entries I discussed Israel’s demographic dilemma: Because of the high reproduction rate of the Israeli Arabs, within a generation Israel will have an Arab majority, unless there is a deadly outbreak of anti-Semitism somewhere in the world where many Jews currently live, and most decide to immigrate to Israel.

Neither prospect looks desirable. It amounts to the certainty of an Arab majority in Israel and Israel ceding to be a Jewish state , unless Jewish people elsewhere are being tortured and killed which is a fear we all have.

But on my recent trip to Israel, I discovered another scenario. Unfortunately, it is not a desirable one, either.

The Jewish Orthodox religious community has a reproduction rate comparable, perhaps even higher, than the Israeli Arabs and here are the repercussions:

Neither group (the Orthodox Jews or Israeli Arabs) serves in the military. Neither group pays taxes. That means that the burden of defending the country and supporting its citizens with social services will fall increasingly on a smaller and smaller group of people.

Imagine the sociopolitical repercussions. The secular community is already in conflict with both the Arab and the Jewish orthodox community. It will only get worse.

Any way you look at it, Israel is in trouble over the long term. But the world media is so focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has neglected to mention that even if that problem were solved, Israel as is would still be in trouble.

Economics and values

I was an undergraduate student in economics at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem. For my seminar paper, I chose to evaluate the economic feasibility of improving the road that connected Jerusalem with Tel Aviv.

The cost of doing it was easy to ascertain – but what about the value?

One measurable value was the driving time people would save. First you estimate how much time would be saved by one driver, then you multiply that number by how many people would drive this road in a year. Next, you multiple that number by  the average earnings-per-hour of those who would commute on this road. Multiply that by the number of years the road is likely to last without major repairs. Then calculate the present value – and voila! You have it.

Well, not yet. It’s not that simple.

Improving the road also means reducing car accidents and road fatalities. How much is that worth?

Here, I experienced a rude awakening, and for the first time I felt an extreme dislike of what I thought was my field of study: My advisor recommended that I estimate the value of a human life by computing a person’s life earnings at his/her current rate of pay, and identify the amount that would never be realized because of a fatality.

I was shocked and angry. “You mean to say that all I am worth is how much I can earn in a lifetime of work – and discounted to present value at that?” I asked him.

My mother would vehemently disagree with that. “Consider this,” I said. “How much would you be willing to pay someone to keep your son or daughter alive?”

There is no price, right?

The Talmud, the book of Jewish law, says saving one human life is like saving the world.

How much is saving the world worth?

Studying economics made me cynical. Everything is measured by money, money, money! It reminded me of a parable:

A man walking down a dark street meets his friend, who is looking for something under a streetlamp.

“What have you lost?” he asks his friend.

“I lost my keys.”

“Where?”

“Down at the end of the street,” the friend says.

“So why are you looking over here?”

“Because the light is here.”

Economic theory focuses on what it can measure  and not necessarily on what is meaningful . It is all brain, no heart. And maybe that is the root of many of our problems: why we can’t solve our climate problem or our health delivery system, for example. All numbers, no heart.

Think about it.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes