Start-Up Nation: The Case of Israeli Academics

I just finished reading Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.  The book, profiled and summarized by the Freakonomics blog here, attributes Israel’s recent economic growth spurt (led by high-tech firms) to cultural forces: (1) a distaste for hierarchy (chutzpah) and a tolerance for failure; (2) social capital created by a unique military training and experience; and (3) an educated populace, driven by immigrants. The book is a great read, and worth study by folks who are interested in innovation and growth.

A question the book did not answer (but raised) was whether the same cultural forces explain the tremendous (relative) success of Israeli academics.  Chutzpah, military flexibility, and immigration wouldn’t seem well-matched to generating cloistered, risk-averse, academics.  But Israeli academics are seemingly everywhere in the States these days — especially in law. Are they out-competing American JDs because the served in the IDF?

A contrary story I’ve heard is contingent and personal.  A few super-mentors (like Bebchuck) have created opportunities for dozens of younger folks to succeed.  That, coupled with reported wage stagnation in Israeli law schools, has created a steady supply of Israelis to American law schools.  They are largely clustered in a very hot research area (behavioral law and economics), so are doing quite well.
So what explains the Israeli law professor miracle?  Contingency? Or culture?

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