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Israel, Capitalism, And Human Excellence: An Interview with Author George Gilder


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George Gilder’s latest book, The Israel Test (Vigilante Books), is so unabashedly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel that it would make many Jews blush.

In the book (an excerpt of which was featured as the front-page essay in The Jewish Press’s November 6 issue), Gilder argues that “Jews have forged much of the science and wealth of [our] era” and Israeli “microchip designs are fueling the growth of nations everywhere.”

Editor in chief of the Gilder Technology Report and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute think tank, which he cofounded, Gilder was educated at Harvard University; served as a speechwriter for Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon, among others; and has written over a dozen books, including the influential Wealth and Poverty (1981).

The Jewish Press recently spoke with him about The Israel Test.

The Jewish Press: What exactly is the “Israel test”?

Gilder: The Israel test registers how you respond to people who excel in performance, achievement, innovation, or creativity: Do you resent and envy them, or do you imitate and admire them? And in economic terms: Do you regard their success as coming at your expense, or do you regard their success as creating new opportunities for you?

Much of the world sees Israel’s success as creating gaps rather than opportunities for others. In the Middle East most of Israel’s neighbors regard Israel’s success as somehow coming at their expense, and thus they seek to destroy Israel, as if somehow the destruction of Israel would enhance them.

You admit in the book’s afterword that you yourself failed this Israel test as a teenager.

I had a sense that Jews were different and that WASPs were entitled in some way. As a student at Phillips Exeter Academy I had devoted all my efforts to the school newspaper and expected to be made editor. Instead I was left entirely out. So I complained that New York Jews had [invaded the school and taken my rightful position].

We all understand that how we treat the poor is a crucial moral issue. But I think there’s just as acute a moral issue about how we treat the excellent, the few geniuses, the small and vulnerable groups of creators, innovators and inventors on whom all our prosperity and opportunities ultimately depend.

You argue in the book that this jealousy of excellence explains anti-Semitism.

Yes, I think anti-Semitism is essentially a virulent form of anti-capitalism. The key rule of capitalism is that the good fortune of others is also your own. It’s not a zero-sum game. But if you don’t believe that, you end up envying and resenting the successes of others.

In the book you write at length about Jewish contributions to scientific and technological progress in the 20th and 21st centuries. Can you elaborate?

The 20th century was dominated by Jewish science. Jewish scientists were really the key figures determining whether a country succeeded or failed. The Manhattan Project [in which Jewish scientists played a leading role] won the war for the West.

My thesis is that similarly small numbers of Jews in Israel today are making analogous contributions. For instance, three-quarters of Intel’s major innovations in the last 30 years have come from Israel, and Intel has been, by far, the leading company in the United States in advancing microchip technology.

Microsoft has also depended critically on its Israeli design centers and programmers, and Cisco is now becoming increasingly dependent on Israeli innovations as well.

I believe that without this collaboration with Israel, the United States would be drastically less wealthy than it is today.

How do you explain this disproportionate Jewish contribution to science and technology?

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About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.


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