No One Wants to Wash the Dishes

“Everybody wants social justice, but no one wants to help Mom with the dishes,” writes University of Haifa economics professor Steven Plaut of Israel’s current social protests. I suppose he is saying that left-wing politics do not a better person make. Indeed they often serve as a salve for a guilty conscience: Witness President Obama’s 2008 fundraising triumphs among rapacious Wall Street executives. The great thing about bumper stickers like, “Save the whales” or “Justice for Palestine” is that they proclaim one’s moral grandeur, without demanding anything of the owner of the car.

Many years ago, my Dad, a”h, taught me this lesson. During my senior year in high school, I organized a large fundraising campaign for starving Biafrans (the proceeds of which I promptly gave away to a con woman from the South Side of Chicago.) One Sunday during that campaign, I mentioned to my father that I had been late for a class at our synagogue that morning. He was pouring batter into the waffle iron at the time, and without even looking up, he said, “You are so busy saving the world, but you can’t show someone the common courtesy of getting to his class on time.”

For the first (and probably last time in my life), I was furious with my father, and I ran out of the house, not to return for many hours. It did not take me long, however, to recognize that my fury came from the fact that my father was absolutely right. I was a very self-righteous teen – in my high school graduation speech, I lambasted my classmates for their lack of social consciousness – but not given to doing the dishes without being asked or particular about not keeping others waiting.

My father’s offhand comment had stripped me bare, and no one likes to stand exposed, especially in front of oneself.

The lesson that there is no necessary overlap between a particular political position and being a good person has been reinforced, at least in my mind, by empirical studies showing that residents of conservative Red states give a far greater percentage of their income to charity and are more likely to volunteer their time than residents of Blue states. For the latter, voting for ever higher taxes substitutes for reaching into one’s pocket and directly giving to someone in need. The redistributive welfare state tends to break down social bonds and feelings of mutual responsibility by delegating to the government what neighbors once did for those less fortunate.

Meanwhile, Israel’s “social justice” protestors combine the worst of “old Israel” with the worst of the “new Israel.” They seek a return to the statist economy of the early days of the state, when the Histadrut labor federation was the largest employer, but without any of the willingness to engage in bone-crunching labor and live in extreme simplicity – with shoes worn for years, clothes patched with the burlap from bags of sugar, etc. – of those days.

First published in Mishpacha, August 17.

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6 comments to No One Wants to Wash the Dishes

  • Allan Katz

    Instead of being grateful to the protest leadership for getting the government to take the housing crisis and cost of living seriously, JR talks disparaging of hard working people. I would be less forgiving of him if he did not represent a community that is living on welfare that comes from the taxes these people are paying. As the chareidi Rav of my community here in Israel said – Kibud Av ve Eim is to maskein et ha’horim – kids grow up with a sense of entitlement. I am well aware of the contribution the ‘ learning community’ makes , I just wish it would be spread around the country. The fact that the yeshivah ketana, gavohah , kollel route is the standard and not the exception, that the country as a whole has to support a whole community, makes it very difficult to counter the claims that the chareidi community is ‘ ochlei chinam ‘.

  • Chaya V

    This is not just the leftist in these protests. This is practically every Israeli I speak with. No one wants to reduce their spending, just increase their income or get subsidies to reduce their expenses. But even so, with two working parents in the low-medium range in Israel, it’s impossible to make ends meet if you value life insurance, good health insurance, and solid schooling. And we don’t have a car. But if we moved to a cheaper neighborhood we’d need car, which thereby does’t make it any cheaper. This kind of thing is what the protesters are talking about. That having been said, it is true that no one wants to do the dishes.

  • david

    The protestors are protesting a real problem, but the solution they are demanding is not a solution. There is a real problem when a household with two hard-working, well-educated skilled professionals cannot pay the basics of housing, food, utilities and transportation. Understandably not every hard-working skilled professional will be rich, but there is definitely a problem when the income doesn’t cover the basics.

    But these people are demanding more socialism, when the answer is less socialism. Less government means less taxes and less red-tape, which would increase income and make it worthwhile for more businesses and housing projects to start and expand. This will in turn lead to more competition, whcih means more availability of quality goods and services at a lower cost.

  • cvmay

    Monopolies and Cartels run the country of Israel. Competition is non existent and import taxes are causing the prices to soar. More entitlement programs will not solve the problem but ‘open markets’ will.

  • Joe Q.

    I’m not a big fan of the “red states” vs. “blue states” comparisons. The averages blur a lot of nuance. Yes, residents of “red states” give more to charity than residents of “blue states”. But residents of “red states” are also more likely to perpetrate violent crime, get divorced, and have children outside of marriage. The point is that you have to be careful about blanket claims.

  • Allan Katz

    The government has to intervene to reduce the concentration of economic power amongst the few monopolies and cartels. The housing crisis was caused by low interest rates, high demand and buying of apartments while the land authority failed to release land causing prices to rise further. It has been suggested that rental prices should be regulated.

    Robert Reich has a 2 minute video on the problems of the American economy , I think Israel has a similar problem