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Friday, July 31, 2009


New York

The central issue in international politics, dividing the world into two
fractious armies, is the tiny state of Israel. The prime issue is not a
global war of civilizations between the West and Islam or a split between
Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and salient, but they obscure the
deeper moral and ideological war. The real issue is between admiration of
achievement versus envy and resentment of it.

The test can be summarized by a few questions:

What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth
or in other accomplishments?

Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it?

Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do you impugn it and
seek to tear it down?

In countries where Jews are free to invent and create, they pile up
conspicuous wealth and arouse envy and suspicion. In this age of
information, when the achievements of mind have widely outpaced the power of
masses and material force, Jews have forged much of the science and wealth
of the era. Their pioneering contributions to quantum theory enabled the
digital age. Their breakthroughs in nuclear science and computer science
propelled the West to victory in World War II and the cold war. Their
bioengineering inventions have enhanced the health, and their microchip
designs are fueling the growth of nations everywhere. Their genius has
leavened the culture and economy of the world. Israel today concentrates the
genius of the Jews. Obscured by the usual media coverage of the "war-torn"
Middle East, Israel's rarely celebrated feats of commercial, scientific, and
technological creativity climax the Jews' twentieth-century saga of triumph
over tragedy. Today tiny Israel, with its population of 7.23 million, five
and one-half million Jewish, stands behind only the United States in
technological contributions. In per-capita innovation, Israel dwarfs all
nations. The forces of civilization in the world continue to feed upon the
quintessential wealth of mind epitomized by Israel. Assuming that wealth is
distributed from above, chiefly by government, rather than generated by
invention and ingenuity, Israel's critics see the world as a finite sum of
resources. Believing that Israel, like the United States, has seized too
much of the world's resources, they advocate vast programs of international
retribution and redistribution. In their view, Israel's wealth stems not
from Jewish creativity and genius but from cadging aid from the United
States or seizing valuable land and other resources from Arabs. This vision
of zero-sum economics manifests itself around the globe. Perhaps some of you
readers share it. You believe that capitalist achievement comes at the
expense of others or of the environment. You believe that "behind every
great fortune is a great crime." You advocate the redistribution of wealth.
You think we all benefit when the government "spreads the wealth around."
You imagine that free international trade is a mixed blessing, with many
victims. You want to give much of Israel's wealth to its neighbors. You
think that Israel's neighbors -- and the world -- would benefit more from
redistribution than from Israel's continuing prosperity and freedom. You
believe that Israel is somehow too large rather than too small. You believe,
fantastically, that poverty is caused not by envy and rapine but by
enterprise and property -- that poverty is a major side effect of wealth.

Anti-capitalists, like anti-Semites throughout history, have always been
obsessed with the "gaps" between different groups: gaps of income, power,
achievement, and status. Against the background of Palestinian poverty,
anti-capitalists and anti-Semites alike see Israel as primarily a creator
not of wealth but of gaps. With a gross domestic product of around $200.7
billion (2008), per-capita income of some $28,200, and close to a trillion
dollars of market capitalization for its companies, Israel these days is
rich, they say. But look at the gap between its luxuries and Palestinian
privation. Look at the gap between Jews in Israel and Arabs in Israel --
sure evidence of "discrimination" and "exploitation." Look at the gaps in
the United States. Tax rates are clearly too low. The rich top 10%, who pay
more than 70% of the income taxes in the United States, are obviously
undertaxed according to the gapologists' model. Jews lead all other American
groups in per capita income, signifying another gap, presumably rectifiable
by the United Nations. Shaping the clichés of the gapologists is a profound

What makes capitalism succeed is not chiefly its structure of incentives but
its use of knowledge and experience. As a knowledge system, capitalism
assigns entrepreneurs -- who have already proven their prowess as investors
-- the right to shape the future pattern of investments. The lessons of
failure are learned rather than submerged in subsidies and gilded with
claims of higher virtue and purpose. Under capitalism, knowledge grows apace
with wealth. The executors of entrepreneurial knowledge extend it to new
ventures and become the economic leaders of the age. Nothing is more
destructive to opportunities for the poor than diverting resources from
entrepreneurs who know how to use them profitably and giving them to
government to spend politically.

The Israel test forces a remorseless realism. Either the world, principally
the United States, supports Israel, or Israel, one way or another, will be
destroyed. There are no other realistic choices. And if Israel is destroyed,
capitalist Europe will likely die as well, and America, as the epitome of
productive and creative capitalism spurred by Jews, will be in jeopardy.
This is the most portentous form of the Israel test. Inescapably, it poses
the questions of life and wealth that lie behind nearly all the holocausts
and massacres of recent world history, from the genocidal attacks on
European Jews and the pogroms of Russian Kulaks and Jews to Maoist China's
murderous "cultural revolution." With wealth seen as stolen from the
exploited poor, the poor in turn win a license to dispossess and kill their
oppressors and to disrupt capitalist economies. By justifying violent
attacks on a civilized democracy -- and then condemning the necessary
retaliatory defense -- leftists would allow no solution but tyranny. Since
across the world economy today this scenario is most starkly enacted in the
Middle East -- in the Palestinian territories -- all these synaptic suicide
bombers of the brain focus instinctively on the Israel test.

They know well which side they are on. Which side are you on?

George Gilder is the author of "The Israel Test" (Richard Vigilante Books),
out now.

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