Johnson guest, Dan Senor, author, geopolitical expert, investor, and adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations delivered a talk entitled “Start up nation: The story of Israel’s economic miracle,” and signed books of the same title at Cornell on May 2.
Published in over 15 languages, Senor’s book has attracted a range of people that even Senor did not expect. Speaking to a full Statler Auditorium audience, Senor said that this is because the people who read his book are not necessarily interested in Israel, but are instead curious to know how such a small, conflict-ridden country can have one of the most successful economies in the world.
While Israel is only about sixty years old, has almost no natural resources, and is constantly ravaged by war, there are more Israeli companies on the Nasdaq than any other country after the US and China. Israel also attracts more Global Venture Capital investments per capita than any other nation in the world. “Economically boycotted by most countries in the region, Israel seems to have no chance to do well, but actually thrives because it has the highest density of start-ups out of any nation,” said Senor.
Start-ups succeed in Israel because of several key factors that make the nation unique, according to Senor. Israel’s liberal immigration policy is vital for its economic success because when immigrants arrive, they bring their existing business networks from around the world. “Over 70 nationalities are represented in Israel and this leads to powerful economic results. Immigrants are entrepreneurs by nature, because traveling to a new country and starting a life there is essentially a start-up in itself,” he said
Israel’s required military service policy plays an important role as well. After women and men serve for two or three years respectively, they go on to attend university when they are older and more mature than American students, explains Senor. In the military, young Israelis learn to be leaders and make high stake decisions early in life. The Israeli army is also deliberately understaffed in its senior positions to ensure that it remains nimble. Military personnel at the junior level are trained to make quick decisions to ensure that no time is lost. “Young people are taught to not disobey but challenge people in senior positions, and this follows Israelis into their start-ups,” said Senor.
While economies worldwide continue to recover from the recent crisis, Senor believes that it is time to put aside political questions regarding Israel, and focus on what can be learned from their strong economy. “People are always talking about Israel and many criticize it,” he says, “but the truth is we have a thing or two to learn from them.”