Marc Berman
Marc BermanCourtesy

In less than a month, we will be celebrating Pesach (Passover), commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The Torah tells us that, before they could enter the promised land of Eretz Yisrael, our ancestors had to wander 40 years in the Sinai desert after the Exodus. This allowed a new generation to arise that was untainted by the slave mentality that, understandably, characterized the generation that had known actual bondage.

I believe that, perhaps, the corollary message to this narrative is that it takes a society about 40 years to learn or unlearn its habits. Whether those habits are good ones or bad ones.

L’havdil, we can see this lesson manifest in the economic policies of the government of the United States of America today. About 40 years ago, the nation suffered an horrific bout of double-digit inflation, combined with economic stagnation. Hence the term “stagflation.”

This “malaise,” to use a term coined by the President who first presided over the mess, Jimmy Carter, was caused by years of runaway government spending. That, and the federal government essentially printing money in a vain attempt to close the budget gap. (The United States stopped entirely from backing its currency with gold in 1971.)

In short, the US spent untold billions of dollars in fighting an ineffectual war in Vietnam. And more billions in an ineffectual “war” on poverty.

Then, about 40 years ago, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the Federal Reserve Board, under its chairman Paul Volcker, adopted a “tight money” policy that caused an even deeper recession but whipped inflation. Tax cuts implemented by President Reagan eventually restored economic growth, and, indeed, prosperity.

However, though I was but a wee little lad during the 1970s, I can still remember the rise in antisemitism during that time. A trend which I believe was exacerbated by the economic woes of the period.

One famous example of what I am referring to was the infamous and open assembly of Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, a town that was home to many survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust). Another is the bumper stickers of the 70s that proclaimed “Burn Jews, Not Oil.”

Fast forward 40 years. Once more we have inflation in America approaching double digits. The war in Ukraine seems poised to only make the problem worse. Moreover, the stock market has declined precipitously, possibly pointing to a forthcoming economic downturn.

And what got us here again? In sum, we as a society seem to have forgotten all the lessons that we learned 40 years ago. We spent billions of dollars on prosecuting failed wars to create “democracies” in Iraq and Afghanistan. We wasted more mega-bucks on pork-laden social programs that actually have encouraged people not to work.

Ominously for the Jewish community in America, there is no reason to suppose that any economic cataclysm that may ensue will not result in a similar rise in antisemitism like in the 1970s.

We can only pray that the nation relearns the lessons of fiscal responsibility soon--and hopefully not the hard way.

Marc Berman writes on politics, law, culture, and religion. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also a chazzan (cantor) whose latest recording, a cover of “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” can be found here .