Three Implications from Start-Up Nation

I’ve just finished Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s Start-Up Nation. As expected, it was a fascinating read, and well worth the time. Three things in particular struck me about it:

(1) The incredible ingenuity, determination, and passion of Israelis committed to their particular goals, whether it’s arms smuggling, capital investment, or creating new technologies: in short, Israel’s human capital. It really is amazing what the country has done, under sub-optimal conditions. Importantly, this trend is not only a recent one, but was there from the beginning in 1948.

(2) There is a real question of why this animating spirit and creativity hasn’t been applied more directly and more often to Israel’s foreign and security policy. Israel has been very good at promoting its interests and acting on its moral impulses in the wider world, including its humanitarian aid, rescue missions, and export of technical know-how to countries in Asia, the Western hemisphere, and Africa. Its intelligence services have also been very imaginative and therefore effective when it comes to foreign operations. But when it comes to policy toward its immediate neighbors in the Middle East, Israel has been hampered by fierce domestic ideological and political battles, a continuing sense of siege that promotes a defensive mindset, and a sheer lack of interest in changing a comfortable status quo for an uncertain future. The drive that pushes its trail-blazers particularly in the economic and technological arenas hasn’t transferred to the foreign policy arena.

(3) The Arab sector of the population has almost no chance of capitalizing on this dynamism and its effects. Or at least, very few do. They exist for the most part separate from the conditions and institutions that nurture Jewish Israelis into this entrepreneurial culture; and they don’t serve in the military, which the authors note is a critical experience for necessary networking and technological and organizational skills. At the same time, the under-application of resources to Arab educational facilities and infrastructure make it difficult for them to move out from these circumstances, while the poor socio-economic conditions of the Arab population in general has often focused Arab workers on provision of basic needs to their families, rather than allowing more leisure time to devote to thinking bigger and broader.

So, like everything else in Israel, this drive to start things up is multi-faceted, with multiple consequences both good and bad.

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