Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Life in Israel - Case Closed
You asked me what I could tell you, as an economist, about the
differences between the quality and life and the standard of living in
Israel vs. the US. You asked what my advice would be for a former
Israeli or an ordinary American Jew contemplating moving (back?) to
Israel. That is, ideology and religious feelings aside, from a
practical point of view, where is the quality of life better?
Your question has a simple answer. Based on almost all criteria
and measurements, life in Israel is better than in the US. I do not
know why all the former Israelis and most US Jews do not move to
Israel at once. I think they are foolish for not doing so.
Why do I say that?
First, if we put aside housing, everything about life in Israel
is better than life in the US. Israelis live better than Americans.
They have a better standard of living and a longer life expectancy.
They eat better. They have a better material existence. Israeli kids
and non-kids have every electronic gadget that Americans have and then
some. Israelis are about as likely to own a car as Americans,
although slightly less likely to own two or three. Public
transportation in Israel is a hundred times better than in the US.
The weather is a thousand times better. The health system in Israel,
with all its problems, is better for the consumer than is the health
system in the US, with all its problems, and you are at least as
likely to get highly skilled and competent medical care in Israel as
in the US. Which I guess also means that the chances of major
screw-ups in health care are about the same in both places.
No less important, the average public school in Israel is better
than the average public school in the US. The good schools in Israel
are at least as good as the good schools in the US. Jewish education,
such as it is and it definitely needs some work, is essentially free
in Israel and costs a fortune in the US. Israeli universities, with
all their problems and ugly politicization, and who better than me
knows about that, are better than the average American university,
although not as good as the best American universities, and no one is
stopping Israelis from sending their kids to the best American
universities. Moreover, Israeli university tuition is almost free, or
to be more precise - tuition is about $3000 per year. A month in the
dorms in the US can cost that much.
You are safer in Israel than in the US. That is not a joke or
exaggeration. Sure, Israel has terrorism but the US has violent
crime. You are just as dead if you are killed by a criminal as when
you are killed by a terrorist, and you are more likely to be killed by
a criminal in the US than you are to be killed by a terrorist in
Israel. The only difference is that the violent killer in Israel is
politically driven. And the killing would make the news headlines.
But from a purely mathematical perspective, you and your family
members are safer in Israel. You are much more likely to die in a
traffic accident in Israel than be hurt by a terrorist, and traffic
accident rates are not much different from those in the US and better
than those in most of Europe.
That leaves the exception I noted, housing. Yes, Israelis live
at a disadvantage when it comes to housing, compared to Americans. Or
at least to most Americans. Israelis have better and larger housing
units than New Yorkers. Outside New York, Americans are likely to
live in larger single homes, while Israelis live in smaller
condominiums, purchased apartments. Rent is cheap in Israel compared
to the US. Purchase prices for apartments are higher in Israel. So
Israelis live in less roomy units and have to put up with neighbors in
the same building, half of whom are idiots or lunatics. You get used
So, as I said, housing aside, Israelis have a better quality of life.
There are a few other considerations of course for anyone
contemplating the move. If you speak Hebrew already, there is no
language disadvantage to life in Israel. If you do not, you can live
in English speaking enclaves in Israel, find English speaking work in
many cases, and eventually you will speak Hebrew. The Russians and
Ethiopians can do it and so can you. But it takes a while and can be
That is offset by the fact that, unlike the US, you are living in
a thriving dynamic cornucopia of Jewish life with diverse Jewish
population groups and traditions and religious vibrancy. You can take
courses or hear lessons in Judaism from a different teacher every
single day and need never attend the same teacher twice because the
choice set is so huge. I do not know what the cash value of that is.
You will almost never be accosted on the street by someone asking if
you have spare change, and, on the off chance that you WILL be, it
will likely be by a 79 year old Russian grandmother, not a young punk
looking for drug money. The young black teenagers you will see on the
street are generally wearing yarmulkes. You will almost never see
drunks asleep on park benches or stinking up the avenue. Everyone you
meet will seek to give you advice, and much of it will be good advice.
The Israelis are not particularly polite, although you will be
surprised to discover that Israeli Arabs are. You need never wear a
tie. You can debate Spinoza with your neighbor on the bus. Your
gardener may be studying Maimonides. If he happens to be Yemenite, he
probably knows Maimonides better than the Rabbi. No one listens to
rap music, or almost no one. Israeli pop music is better than
American pop music. Israelis no longer smoke more than Americans and,
thanks to the weather, you can open windows everywhere all year round.
The beaches are about as nice as anything California offers. The
traffic jams can be as bad. The wine is better and always kosher.
The coffee is much better. The falafel has no comparison in the US.
Your children will marry Jewish partners.