No apologies for economic liberty

The author argues that, among other issues, it is time to consider reforming the Israel Land Authority.

March 24, 2015 21:07
3 minute read.

A plane flies over a field (ILLUSTRATIVE). (photo credit: REUTERS)

The GOP is the more hawkish American political party, so it is natural for Republicans to sympathize with Israel’s geopolitical challenge.

Because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made security the centerpiece of his reelection platform, it is also not surprising that Republicans have aligned with the Israeli Right.

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Less appreciated is the affinity of American conservatives for Netanyahu’s economic principles and accomplishments.

The final stretch of the election campaign triggered a bit of populist rhetoric, but Netanyahu’s stints both as finance minister and as prime minister demonstrated his solid commitment (if not that of many fellow Likudniks) to a pro-growth agenda: free trade, tax cuts, privatization, welfare reform and restraints on big labor.

These policies have been hallmarks of Netanyahu’s economic stewardship, and they read like a playbook for GOP presidential aspirant Scott Walker, the embattled governor of Wisconsin.

Like Governor Walker, Netanyahu appears set to keep his job after a bruising campaign. For those who support free markets, however, it is disappointing that Netanyahu was unwilling to follow Walker’s lead on the stump.

Walker prevailed in three state-wide elections in just four years (including a failed attempt by leftist opponents to recall him mid-term). He did so not by downplaying or diluting his economic message, but by showcasing it with a human touch. He argued forcefully for the benefits of conservative policies to citizens of all walks of life.

In Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge (Sentinel Books), Walker recounts his battle for the hearts and minds of voters and draws a stark contrast with the failure of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “You can’t win the presidency,” he writes, “when nearly two-thirds of the country thinks you don’t care about their struggles.”

If it were enough to cite data and charts, Likud would have had plenty to work with. From a macroeconomic standpoint, Netanyahu’s policies have succeeded. Israel’s GDP growth has exceeded the US growth rate and the OECD average every year since 2008. The unemployment rate has been equal to or lower than that of both the US and the OECD average every year since 2010. Inflation rates have been competitive or lower for most of this period as well. Projections for 2015 and 2016 are likewise compelling.

Walker explains in his book that conservative leaders in the US need to use “logic, reason, data and an appeal to the American people’s innate sense of fairness.”

Netanyahu seemed to understand this notion when it came to security policy, stoking popular fears and a hunger for leadership. On the economy, though, not so much. His campaign was nowhere to be found on pocketbook issues.

The press and much of the electorate took Netanyahu to task for this failure. Critics excoriated him over the cost of living, in particular the high cost of housing, and the striking disparities of wealth across the population. A Walker-style campaign would have made no apologies.

It would have highlighted the importance of economic growth and the debilitating effects of government dependency.

It would have addressed the lack of affordable housing with proposals for market-based solutions.

Kulanu’s Michael Oren had the right idea when he argued on these pages for shaking up the Israel Lands Authority and other regulatory reforms to stimulate the housing supply. To show common cause with the average citizen, Netanyahu could have taken a similar tack. He could have confronted the bureaucracy and unsavory special interests without abandoning his free market principles.

Instead, on the eve of the election, the prime minister spoke of an ill-defined “personal mission” to tackle housing costs. No details. No principles. Nothing which made it sound like anything other than a last-minute appeal for votes.

Election campaigns typically bring out the worst in politicians, and this round was no different. Still, if Netanyahu ends up controlling the next government as expected, it will not be too late for him to rekindle his leadership on real-world matters that do not involve centrifuges. To be strong against its enemies, Israel needs to be strong at home. It won’t be strong without robust economic growth, and there won’t be real growth without an impassionate defense of economic liberty.

The author is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. His writings are available at and you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelRube.

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