Review Of: ‘The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World’
5 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2020
Date Written: 2019
Much has been written about the kibbutzim (plural of “kibbutz”, a uniquely Israeli social collective), and their eventual decline may seem, at least to many economists, an obvious and inevitable outcome. As such, writing a new book that offers a rigorous and nontrivial economic analysis, brings new findings and insights, and makes a meaningful contribution to the current debate on key issues, such as inequality, is no small endeavor. The author's writing style, his broad perspective, which goes beyond economics, and a smart organization of the book make its reading intriguing and enjoyable not only to professional economists, but to a wider audience as well.
While the book explores the particular case of the kibbutzim, the questions it raises and the lessons it provides are much broader. These relate to the role of incentives in motivating individual behavior, economic and social mechanisms that may mitigate the effects of flawed incentive structures, and the costs and implications of excessive equality. Yet the book also serves an important reminder against over-simplistic or cynical approaches. While an excessively egalitarian structure eventually proved unsustainable, the author emphasizes that under certain historical circumstances it had important economic advantages (such as exploiting economies of scale in the provision of services), provided important economic amenities to its members (notably, insurance in a very risky environment), and proved very instrumental in attaining collective (even national) goals.
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