Monday, December 30, 2013

Poverty in Israel, why does no one care?

Israel has very high poverty rates for an OECD country, 23.5 percent, and yet the average middle class (and up) Israeli doesn't seem to care. The question is why not? Are middle class Israelis simply cruel and unfeeling? The answer according to the NY Times article,  Israel's Undeserving Poor, is actually much more complex.

Two segments of Israel’s population stand out as the poorest of the poor: “ultra-Orthodox Jews” and “Muslim-Arabs.” Unemployment rates for ultra-Orthodox Jews (mostly ultra-Orthodox men) and Arabs (mostly Arab women) are very high. So are birth rates. The result: 59 percent of the ultra-Orthodox (also known as Haredim) are poor. Similarly, 58 percent of Arab Israelis are poor. 
to be blunt, Israelis know that Haredis and Arabs are disproportionately represented in the underground economy (namely, by evading taxes). Finally, to a large extent they are poor because of choices they make — preferring their traditions over participating in the modern Israeli economy. Simply put: For Haredi Jewish men, the choice is generally to study the Torah and have many children (while the women have to provide for the families). For Muslim Arabs, it is to keep women at home and have many children (while the men go to work).
For the comparatively well-to-do to care more about Israel’s poverty, they first have to be convinced that the necessary measures have been taken to eliminate poverty-by-choice.
Only when unemployed Haredi men and Arab women go to work and black-market tax evaders are forced to pay taxes will the middle and upper classes be more open to thinking about a redistribution of wealth. Right now, the majority of Israelis have good reason — or good excuse — to object to any redistributive attempts to take from them and give to others.
For middle-class Israelis to care, the message from the state should be quite different — one that could be called compassionate cruelty. The state should be telling its citizens: We don’t much care if the poor-by-choice get even poorer and get even less from the state. We don’t much care about poverty rates that take everybody into account without much consideration of personal and communal decisions and their consequences. But we will ensure that those willing to work and pay their dues are properly assisted, and the government will make sure that they are the only ones to be raised above poverty level on the government’s dime.

There is no question in my mind that the article is correct. I see this attitude every day at work (hi tech). The people at work are upper middle class and are concerned citizens, but have no interest in transferring their hard earned money to people who they believe are poor by choice and are expecting to be supported by the government.

As I posted a while back (The cash machine that is the Israeli government) the Charedi population looks at the government as a cash machine, give us money and leave us alone. The budget is a zero sum game, whatever we can save and get for us great whatever doesn't go to us is basically lost. The Charedi population views itself as hardly using any government services no, schools, university, roads, police, jails, etc. (which is of course not true, they use the roads, health care, the army protects them etc). In addition, the Charedi population pays less in direct taxes because many people don't work, they are poor, and those who do work get a lot of money under the table and therefore when they get money from the government they don't look upon it as their tax money coming back to them. Because of this, the Charedi MKs are seemingly always trying to get more money for their constituents.

Until there is a fundamental shift (as the article states) attitudes are not going to change and poverty is not going to move people to action.

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