If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hadn’t moved up the elections to early
2013, we’d be voting in late 2013.
Sooner or later, the race must be run
that year. But the difference, in political terms, of when we go to the polls is
huge. It matters cardinally to what’s best for the country rather than what’s
best for any party.
Here Netanyahu has undeniably opted for what’s best
for the country.
We all know that the 2013 budget must be put together
and then put to a Knesset vote. We all know that this annually entails intense
haggling. We should all be equally aware that the budget now awaiting
deliberation is likely to be full of edicts that would perforce increase the
burdens already weighing down ordinary folks.
We should all know that
this isn’t the product of arbitrary hardheartedness. The world’s leading
economies are all – without exception – in deep trouble, and this cannot but rub
off on us. Hence the need for what should be – for the collective good – an
austerity budget, or one close to an austerity budget.
wisdom that it’s easier to pass an unpopular budget after having received a
mandate from the public than to attempt it before having faced the electorate.
Political common sense rules against going to the voter after having inflicted
an austerity budget, even if this is warranted by objective
Moreover, even if Netanyahu were altruistically to put all the
above cogent considerations out of mind and adopt a semi-suicidal political
course (as his detractors would surely have liked him to do), it wouldn’t
It wouldn’t work primarily because all players in the political
arena know the clock is ticking. With elections unavoidably in the offing, no
political faction would earnestly consider the budget in terms of what is best
for the economy. Trumping everything would be the upcoming campaign, i.e., the
need to appeal to constituents and put their sectarian interests even more ahead
of the greater good than is the usual inclination.
Thus the horse-trading
about a particularly difficult budget would be overshadowed by an election
No Knesset candidates can afford to ignore the political
Given this, concocting a budget becomes a mission impossible,
with all MKs focusing on the contest for electoral support directly ahead. The
inducement to curry favor with the voters would grow all the greater at the
unquestionable expense of doing the right thing.
In a nutshell, this is
called populism – catchall demagoguery that purports to side with the “people”
against the “elites.” Populism doesn’t make for good economic management, but it
can be exploited to make political capital. Populists of varying political
colors will tell the public that cutbacks and belt-tightening are ruthless
Short-term carping over higher prices and fewer
entitlements stokes populist furnaces. It allows populists to misrepresent
economic reality in order to appear like righteous protectors of the common
If election fever coincides with budget time, politicians are
tempted to wax populist, at which point no rational budget is remotely
In the background hover existential concerns, certainly not
disconnected from economic circumstances.
Dangers of war don’t improve
our economic prospects.
But even barring outright confrontation, extreme
geopolitical uncertainties don’t help stabilize an economy, already imperiled by
economic instability abroad.
We aren’t an island. When basic commodities
cost more abroad, we pay more. When countries to which we export goods find
themselves in dire economic straits and buy less from us, they inflict pain on
our industries, hi-tech sector, etc. This is unavoidable.
Beyond all this
looms the US political picture. Whatever the outcome of America’s elections, it
would serve our interests better to face the winner with an Israeli government
that enjoys a new mandate for potentially four years than with one at the end of
its road and susceptible to foreign interference (hardly unprecedented) in our
own domestic democratic processes.
Given the 2013 challenges, we’re
better off casting our ballots early in the year than doing the same later in
the year with a bad budget and greater vulnerability to excruciating political
pressure from overseas.