Bryan Caplan  

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Sentences to Ponder on the Eur... More Comments on Principles-Ba...
Guy Delisle's latest graphic novel, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, is outstanding - second only to his transcendent Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.  Like most of Delisle's books, Jerusalem is a non-fiction travelogue.  His wife works for Doctors Without Borders, so Delisle sees one troubled land after another - and draws what he sees. 

There's a bit of autobiography and tourist stuff, but mostly Delisle seeks out the sore spots of the countries he visits.  He's not big on solutions, but after he spends a year talking to locals and experts about social ills, you feel like you've learned a lot.  In Jerusalem, he mostly focuses on Israeli settlements and how the Palestinians really live. 

Delisle's no economist, but there's plenty of interesting economics along the way.  Here's a sequence of five of my favorite panels about the unintended consequences of an ancient tax exemption:

jer1s.jpg

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Many readers will be annoyed by Delisle's sympathy for the Palestinians.  But he seems very fair-minded to me.  The main problem with Jerusalem, like Joe Sacco's Palestine, is that Delisle misses an opportunity to ask people on the receiving end of Israel's collective punishment some hard questions, such as:
1. You're too weak to beat the Israelis.  Why don't you just submit?  (And if they responded, "Would you?," I'd say "I already do.  I think taxation is theft, but I also have the wisdom to realize that the IRS will make my life a living hell if I resist.")

2. The Israelis could easily have killed or exiled every Palestinian.  Why didn't they?  What does that say about their objective function - and/or the objection functions of other Western countries that put pressure on Israel?

3. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow.  What would greater Palestine's GDP per capita be ten years from now?  Want to bet on that?

4. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow.  How many Palestinians would still die violent deaths during the next ten years?  How many political prisoners will there be in ten years?  Want to bet on that?
My point: It's unclear if Israelis would be better off if they'd been far more pacific.  But it's clear that Palestinians' would be far better off if they unilaterally converted to pacifism.  Indeed, if they'd been pacifists all along, most of their problems would have been resolved long ago instead of festering for decades.



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Philo writes:

“Want to bet on that?” is an empty challenge, since the Jews will not, in fact, leave Israel tomorrow.

Sieben writes:

A large part of the Palestinian resistance is motivated by their economic expulsion from their own country. The Israelis don't just need to pack up and leave, they need to pay decades worth of reparations.

Subtract Palestinian retaliation against "innocent" Israeli civilians if you want. The net is still a heavy debt.

Brian writes:

None of those are good questions.

1. No individual Palestinian can just submit to the Israelis and try to get along with the established system. The Israelis will change the rules to undermine him. His fellow Palestinians will murder him if he sees any large scale success. If he manages against the odds to bring people together, objectors will infiltrate the relationship with terrorists that will blow up enough Israelis to shut the accord down. This has all been well proven by experience when individual Palestinian arabs have tried peaceful coexistence.

2. The Israelis cannot expel the Palestinians because the USA is not hard-hearted enough to support mass expulsion against the opinion of the world. The USA is stolid enough to support Israel's existence in the face of world opposition, but not expulsion. Maybe in the face of some future crisis elsewhere, world opinion will be distracted enough to allow it, but it has been sixty years and Israel has had no opportunity to try.

3. Obviously, if the Palestinians tried to govern themselves with the intifada institutions they have, they'd have a sub-Saharan Africa level of economic development immediately and for the foreseeable future. Think Zimbabwe, not Botswana. But with terror and torture for dissidents. Nevertheless, the Palestinians would prefer it that way.

4. Again, more Palestinians would be dead or political prisoners if Israel left. And even a majority of the ones who are most likely to be slaughtered and imprisoned would vote to expel Israel given the chance.

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

In the course of human evolution, the genes of aggressive and stubborn people (especially men) have often prospered more than the genes of pacifist people. Many or most people living today are freighted with genes for Arab-type behavior. Since aggression is frequently more adaptive than submission, genes for it continue to prosper and we can expect every population to contain "plenty of hotheads to keep the pot boiling."

Remember, evolution isn't "interested in" maximizing total economic return-- natural selection of genes tracks relative reproductive success. Hotheads often get more girls than pacifists, especially after the hotheads name the pacifists "cowards and collaborators," assassinate them, then marry their widows. The next generation will have more hothead genes.

(Indeed, the Palestinian Arabs in Israel are lucky that the Jews, perhaps because of their long tutelage in submissive survival in Europe, are less aggressive than the Arabs, who would certainly kill all the Jews or drive them into exile if the jackboot were on the other foot-- as demonstrated in all the other Arab countries.)

Evan writes:

@Ghost of Christmas Past

Remember, evolution isn't "interested in" maximizing total economic return-- natural selection of genes tracks relative reproductive success. Hotheads often get more girls than pacifists, especially after the hotheads name the pacifists "cowards and collaborators," assassinate them, then marry their widows. The next generation will have more hothead genes.

That's true, but a population with a large percentage of hotheads results in a lot of people getting into fights and being murdered before they get a chance to pass on their genes. Hence evolution tends to maintain a balance between hotheads and pacifists.

You're probably right that Jewish society is a little better at either controlling their hotheads, or selecting against them.

@Brian

3. Obviously, if the Palestinians tried to govern themselves with the intifada institutions they have, they'd have a sub-Saharan Africa level of economic development immediately and for the foreseeable future. Think Zimbabwe, not Botswana. But with terror and torture for dissidents. Nevertheless, the Palestinians would prefer it that way.

Your statement reminds me of a scene in "Colossus, the Forbin Project" where, after the Colossus supercomputer has conquered Earth, it points out that it hasn't decreased the freedom of most humans. It argues that for most humans the choice is between being dominated by Colossus or being dominated by politicians. Therefore, if they're going to be dominated by someone anyway they should choose Colossus, since it is objectively better at governing than a mere human.

In spite of the supercomputer's flawless logic, the human characters were angry and rebellious. They wanted humans to be in charge regardless. I guess there's just something in human nature that sometimes makes us care more about the demography of our leaders then their quality.

Except for me. I was rooting for the computer. I cheered when it took control away from those stupid meatbags. I guess I'm just weird.

dha writes:

Palestinians are not homo economicus. They don't want 'peace', they want 'victory'. To them, bringing the holy sites back under the control of Islam is a more important consideration than material prosperity and clearly often more important than personal safety.

Even if they were persuaded of it, I don't think it would matter much to them that they would do much better by those methods as a pacific population of Israeli citizens.

Greg writes:

What the hell are you talking about???

Would it have been better for Churchill and the British to fold in 1940? Should have the Red Army given up at Stalingrad? Should have Alexander Pechersky and Leon Feldhendler not created and lead a successful revolt at Sobibor?

I suppose if someone comes into your house and starts killing your family its best to be a pacifist! If someone starts dropping bombs on your village its just dandy to go outside and welcome the bombs with open arms!

Your views are disturbing and repulsive.

Andy Hallman writes:
Many readers will be annoyed by Delisle's sympathy for the Palestinians.

Because many of your readers hate Palestinians???

It's unclear if Israelis would be better off if they'd been far more pacific. But it's clear that Palestinians' would be far better off if they unilaterally converted to pacifism.

There would not be constant settlement expansion without the Israeli military to back it up. Likewise, had American settlers been pacifist, they would not have been able to conquer much of North America. Similarly for the British Empire, and Spanish Empire, and so on. We could think of numerous examples where aggression paid dividends for the aggressor.

Bryan, I agree with your writing on pacifism, although at times you seem fixated on giving advice to the victim rather than pointing out who the victim is, which is important because that affects how third parties treat the conflict.

John David Galt writes:

Tom Clancy had it right in The Sum of All Fears: the day Palestinians stop fighting, sit down in the street, and sing "We Shall Overcome" will be the day they win.

Should have the Red Army given up at Stalingrad?

Umm...yes?

Russ Roberts writes:

Bryan,

You write:

He's not big on solutions, but after he spends a year talking to locals and experts about social ills, you feel like you've learned a lot.

As a social scientist, you might consider a slightly larger sample than 1 for getting your impressions of the city and its situation. Visit the country. If you can't, talk to more than one person who has.

ThomasL writes:

@Russ

+1

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