The Philosophy of Market Forces

In order for young Israelis not to be led astray by the prophets and priests of the market, they must (also) study the humanities.

Why, wonders Nehemia Shtrasler in an op-ed published earlier this week ("To study for fun or a profession," August 28 ), do young people who chose to study political science, history or philosophy feel discriminated against by the gap between their salaries and those of people with degrees in engineering, computer science or business administration? In Shtrasler's view, the laws of economics determine that computer science is more important and more necessary to the economy than the humanities. Therefore, he argues, these young people can only blame themselves for not having chosen the professions dictated by those laws, and for having been punished with meager salaries.

It seems that Shtrasler was seeking to persuade young people to stay away, for the sake of their wallets, from the humanities and social science departments. But it is that very argument that may well cause young people to understand the importance of history and political science, philosophy and sociology to the post-industrial world in general, and to Israeli society in particular.

For what are those "laws of economics" that Shtrasler views as laws of nature that must be obeyed? Anyone who takes a basic undergraduate course in the economic and political history of the capitalist era will understand that there are no "laws of economics" or "market forces" per se, but that these are subject to the interests of the capitalists. Once those young people have learned to identify the hand of man in "laws of economics" and "market forces" - and, even more, the hand of a fairly narrow circle of families - they will understand that it's a mistake to think that the social and economic order of priorities that is making Israel more and more like a high-tech village surrounded by a barbed-wire fence actually stems from a law of nature.

After comparing historical economic and social processes in various capitalist countries in the modern age, they will learn to identify the key factor behind those "laws of economics": a state that has deliberately decided to privatize itself. A state that has effectively decided to cancel the social contract with all its citizens and instead, to make a private alliance with a handful of citizens and foreigners, under which the growth of their own personal economies is presented in a manipulative manner as the growth of the national economy.

History and philosophy, sociology and political science are thus not useless hobbies that are "fun to learn," as Shtrasler claims. On the contrary, in the current Israeli reality, which creates "laws" under which the assets of the few are presented as belonging to all, these fields have indubitable practical significance. For they may well give their students the insights and tools needed to change that reality.

Shtrasler presumably believes in all honesty that a situation in which a very small proportion of Israel's citizens controls the state's socioeconomic agenda is due to the "laws of economics." If so, then his mistaken belief stems from his ignorance of those very fields that he urges young people to avoid studying. It's not inconceivable that had Shtrasler delved into the study of philosophy, history or political science, he would have repudiated his mystification of market forces.

The conclusion is clear: In order for young Israelis not to be led astray by, and prostrate themselves before, the prophets and priests of the market, in order for them to understand that said prophets and priests are mere flesh and blood with whom it is most certainly possible to contend - in the social protest arena - for the benefit of all Israelis, they must (also ) study the humanities.