The accusations is heard often: The prime minister is the most antisocial of all
No, Binyamin Netanyahu does not shun the company of
others, nor is he impolite, disrespectful, or hostile to the social
He is anti-social in a different manner.
Following the end
of the Knesset’s summer session earlier this month, the Social Guard, an
offspring of the 2011 social protest movement, announced that the prime minister
was ranked last of all 120 MKs in the “Social Index.” The index ranks
politicians based on how they voted on “social legislation” during the
But just what is social legislation? According to the Social
Guard, the index assesses politicians’ votes based on whether or not they
promote the guaranteeing of “social rights” for all.
Such rights include
housing, employment, food and water, healthcare, education and social security.
In addition, voting “socially” means promoting democratic participation and
preventing discrimination. MKs have been busy during the summer session voting
on dozens of bills dubbed “social” by the Social Guard.
The late Margaret
Thatcher is often mocked for saying that there is “no such thing as society.”
Taken out of context, that does seem like a strange thing to say. But what the
former British prime minister actually told her interviewer was that “because
there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an
obligation,” and because “no government can do anything except through people,”
the burden of providing social rights ultimately falls not upon society or
government but upon “individual men and women
“Society” does not bear the cost of government
actions, individual taxpaying members of society do. In Israel, according to the
Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, the average taxpayer already pays 54
percent of her income in taxes. Further social legislation will mean most
Israelis will be left with a smaller portion of their salary after the
government collects its due.
Some readers may support tax increases as
long as revenues are used to help the poor. In addition to increasing the tax
burden, however, social legislation has other unintended
Most ends up harming middle- and low-income
Take coupons, for example.
Many workers will receive
gift coupons from their employer for the upcoming holidays. The coupons often
come with restrictions such as expiration dates or exclusion of discounted
products. While that may be annoying if you are a recipient of coupons, those
restrictions give retailers some certainty regarding future sales and profits.
In return, they are willing to sell coupons to your employer at a discount,
allowing you to get up to 20% more value out of your holiday gift from your
employer. If, for example, your employer is willing to spend 400 NIS on a
holiday gift, retailers may give her coupons with a noted value of NIS
One of the dozens of votes included in the Social Index was on a
bill proposed by MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi) to forbid restrictions on
coupons. If the bill becomes law, as the “socials” would have it, retailers will
not be able to add restrictions to their coupons.
Coupons will then be
almost as good as money, since they will have no expiration date or restriction
other than the stores they can be redeemed at. That is the intended consequence
of the law.
But such a law will most likely also have unintended
consequences. It will reduce retailers’ incentive to discount coupons. Your
employer will no longer be able to get an NIS 500 coupon for NIS 400. Since your
employer is only willing to spend NIS 400 on a holiday gift, instead of
receiving a NIS 500 coupon, you may receive a coupon of lower value, say NIS
450, next year.
In addition, employees who use coupons are typically
those most in need of money, who are willing to spend time and go to the shops
where coupons are redeemable. Better-off workers often don’t find it worthwhile
to change their shopping habits in order to redeem coupons. Under the proposed
bill, the average and poorer workers will lose NIS 50, while the better-off will
The coupon example teaches us that legislation ought not to be
judged by its intention but by its effect.
Social legislation intends, or
at least pretends, to help the poor, but in practice it often leaves them worse
Our legislators are busy promoting laws that distort incentives,
hamper growth and reduce the disposable income of lower- and middle- income
families, even though their intentions may be to help society. One can only wish
they were a bit more anti-social.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the
Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.