Fervent believers in the free-market philosophy of Rutgers-trained economist Milton Friedman, Frayda and Kenneth Levy of Mountain Lakes are hosting a conference in Israel in honor of what would have been Friedman’s 100th birthday.
Supporters of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and free-market think tanks like the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, the Levys believe Israel needs to hear Friedman’s message of minimal government and maximal individual liberty.
The Levys are also supporters of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, which is sponsoring the conference, “Economic Liberty & Religion: A Match Made in Heaven?,” at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem from May 20 to 24.
Speakers will include Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute; Corinne and Robert Sauer, coauthors of Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myth from Reality; Iddo Netanyahu, physician, playwright, and brother of the prime minister; and Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad.
Kenneth Levy, cofounder and partner in Jacobs Levy Equity Management of Florham Park, along with business partner Bruce Jacobs of Morristown, another supporter of UJC MetroWest, recently made a $12 million gift to the Wharton School of Business to form the Jacobs Levy Equity Management Center for Quantitative Financial Research.
Frayda Levy owned and managed a book distribution business and cofounded the Moving Picture Institute, which produces and promotes films from a libertarian perspective. She spoke about the conference in a telephone interview with NJ Jewish News.
NJJN: Why are you holding the conference in Jerusalem?
Frayda Levy: We wanted to find a great way to celebrate [Milton Friedman’s 100th] birthday, and what better way than in Israel? He was a supporter of Israel. We also want to bring attention to the fact that Israel is not a free-market economy and how much more prosperous it could be. A lot of religious people ought to understand their religion very much depends on a free-market economy if it is going to flourish.
NJJN: What about the notions in Judaism and Christianity and other religions about caring for the poor?
Levy: Is the best way to do it by creating entitlement programs and breeding generations of dependency, or by private charity? And there would not be the need for charity if you had a much more prosperous society.
We can all live at $10,000 a year. We can have equality. Would that be better than if some people have billions, some people have millions, some people have $100,000, some people have $50,000? Equality is not our goal. We can all live at $10,000 a year, but I don’t think it would be a great world.
NJJN: What is the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies?
Levy: It is a pro-free market think tank. One of the misnomers about what is going on in Israel is that a lot of the economic ills are the results of capitalism. In fact, Israel probably has one of the worst of what we call ‘crony capitalist’ systems in the world. Seven families basically control its economy. That is not the capitalism we believe in.
NJJN: How would you compare what you call ‘crony capitalism’ in Israel with the capitalism in the United States?
Levy: Unfortunately, we are starting to look more and more like Israel. Israel is rated as one of the least economically free countries. A lot of land there is still owned by the government.
NJJN: How do you explain the Israeli tent cities that were formed last summer to protest high food and housing prices? Weren’t the protesters’ grievances the result of Israel’s capitalist structure?
Levy: How is it capitalism when the industries they are complaining about are heavily controlled by government?
NJJN: What would happen if they were deregulated?
Levy: Look at what happened with our computer industry. See all the innovations you saw with telephones. Look at all the kinds of food we can buy here. You can buy organic. You can buy vegetarian. You can buy vegan. You can buy really expensive food. You can buy really cheap food. And mind you, we have heavy government intervention in agriculture in our economy, and we believe it would be even better without all these subsidies.
NJJN: Is there a Jewish component to your political and economic philosophy?
Levy: We do believe that Judaism supports free-market economics, but to be honest, I am not that religious. I am more of a cultural Jew. But I look at the amazing Jewish community centers built in this country and the nice synagogues, and one of the things I realized is that without economic liberty, we would not exist. Economic liberty creates wealth. People are very generous with their wealth. They gave away amazing amounts of money. Jews are philanthropic in the United States. Jews are not philanthropic in Israel.
NJJN: Why not?
Levy: Because Israel is a socialistic country. They have a socialist mentality, which is the government will do it. The philanthropic mindset comes from a free-market civil society.
NJJN: If you could write a prescription for changing Israel’s economy, what would it be?
Levy: Obviously, open up the markets. The tax on products coming into Israel is horrible. Everything is so expensive. Don’t subsidize industries. Sell off the government land. Kibbutzim just breed mediocrity.
NJJN: Are you optimistic about changes in Israel along the lines you advocate?
Levy: I am not an optimistic person.