To This “Rationalist” Economist, Rabbis Are the Most Reasonable People Around

March 25 2020

In a wide-ranging conversation, the distinguished economist Tyler Cowen addresses, among many other topics, religion and his own connections to an intellectual community of “rationalists.” A professed agnostic, Cowen is also a strong believer in the importance of religion and religious values in shaping human behavior, and believes that many of the virtues that have defined American society have religious roots. He has some thoughts about Judaism as well. (Interview by Lydia Laurenson.)

I once sat down as an exercise and tried to ask myself, “Of all the different classes of people I know, who are the most rational?” I think my answer was rabbis. Now, I’m not Jewish. I don’t intend [that answer] as religious commentary. Rabbis have people come to them all the time with their problems, and they have to give advice or help people solve those problems. That makes them very rational. You could say, “Well, rabbis, by a rational standard, have all kinds of beliefs that wouldn’t pass muster.” Maybe that’s true. I don’t even believe in God myself, but at the same time, isn’t it odd that rabbis are perhaps the most rational people as a class?

That kind of point, it seems to me, has not sunk in enough with the rationalist community. They think they are the most rational people, and somehow I doubt that. I’d love to see a study measuring the decisions people who identify as rationalist make in their romantic [and] personal lives, for example—how rational those decisions are, compared to other individuals. I suspect they’d come out slightly below average.

It seems to me there’s something about common-sense morality, and an understanding of the imperfections in real-world institutions, that should be refined in [religious] communities. In that sense, I’m more influenced by Adam Smith and David Hume. Tradition has embedded wisdom, even though you can’t always defend or justify it.

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Read more at New Modality

More about: Economics, Judaism, Rabbis, Rationalism, Tradition

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror