Now that the elections are over and the new Knesset members sworn in, is it okay
to complain? I don’t want to complain about the results of the elections or the
process of coalition-forming, nor do I want to complain about what some
politician’s wife wore to the Knesset’s opening ceremony.
My complaint is
against unnecessary and expensive government advertising campaigns that try to
teach us citizens to behave ourselves.
The “complaining police” campaign
calling citizens to vote on pain of losing their “right to complain” was
certainly amusing. The problems lies not in the talent of the advertisers at the
Government Advertising Bureau (GAB), but in the fact that the government grants
them NIS 400 million of our money annually, most of which goes to campaigns that
try to teach us to behave ourselves.
Only recently the government
launched several campaigns targeted at convincing us to behave the way it wants:
to vote, to purchase goods made in Israel, to report our income, to use
contraceptive methods, and to recycle.
Governments throughout the world
have successfully implemented measures to increase voter turnout: allowing
university students to vote on campus rather than at stations near their
permanent address, allowing citizens who are abroad on Election Day to vote at
embassies, and allowing voting by mail, to name a few. Instead of making life
easier for voting citizens, our government has chosen to spend millions trying
to convince us to vote in spite of the inconveniences.
are many ways to increase employment: cutting bureaucracy and red tape,
simplifying the tax code, reforming labor laws to allow more flexibility,
implementing a responsible fiscal policy, and investing in education and
Instead of rising to the task of fighting pressure groups
and implementing such measures, our government spends millions trying to
convince us to buy goods made in Israel even if they are more expensive and of
poorer quality than goods made elsewhere.
The government’s need for
additional revenue is the reason for the campaign calling on us to report our
income and even to report the income of others. But why does the government
suddenly need more revenue? Because it performed poorly in 2012 and spent NIS 40
billion it did not have. Now, the government does not wish to take the difficult
yet necessary route of tackling pressure groups, cutting subsidies, reducing
overgenerous pay at government-owned corporations, and making the government
Instead, we are called on, once again, to behave
ourselves and pay.
In short, the government has chosen advertising
campaigns over policy.
TRUE, NOT all of the GAB’s budget goes to
“educational” campaigns. A large portion is spent on the publication of
technical announcements and bids which fill pages upon pages of newspapers, even
though only few of the readers find the information relevant. These readers
could easily find the information on a government website dedicated to that
purpose. In practice, the ads are a taxpayer- funded subsidy to a few large
The government also spends money on foreign media trying to
convince tourists to visit Israel. The Israeli economy undoubtedly benefits from
tourists visiting the country, but it benefits also from exports in any other
sector, from innovation, and from other sources of economic growth. Not every
exporter, and certainly not every company, receives free advertising for its
products from the government.
This is another hidden taxpayer- funded
subsidy, this time to the tourism industry.
After having spent all that
money, we should be grateful to the GAB for finding a few shekels left over with
which to publicize useful information about government services.
must not forget, is the reason the GAB exists in the first place.
recent interview, the GAB’s director general, Gadi Margalit, recognized that his
job entails preventing the use of GAB funding for political purposes but said
that was “in a conflict of interests with what I have to do – to increase the
This shows that the chief government advertiser is no
different from many public sector bureaucrats who are convinced that their job
consists of increasing their bureau’s budget, rather than improving service to
the public and minimizing the use of the public’s resources. It seems Israeli
bureaucrats obey the late economist Milton Friedman’s “law” that people are less
thrifty when spending other people’s money.
In the “complaining police”
ad, a policeman interrupts a taxi driver who tells him that “a policeman ought
to view himself as the people’s servant and not their master.”
saying is true not only of policemen but of every public servant, and it ought
to be posted at the entrance of every government bureau.
Then we might
find public servants who will stop educating us and start serving us.
writer is a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies