President Shimon Peres Herzliya Conference 311.
(photo credit: Uri Porat / Beit Hanassi)
"It is possible that we are sitting on a powder keg in the social sphere,” Prof.
Rafi Melnick announced dramatically on the eve of the Herzliya Conference which
is taking place this week.
But looking at the themes of the conference’s
sessions – that were partly changed in the last minute to deal with the uprising
in Egypt – you will not find even a hint of the central factor that is behind
the threat defined by one of the conference’s leaders.
disappointing. It is expected that the Herzliya Conference, justly considered a
central platform for security issues in the broader sense, including social and
economic factors that impact on them, will not overlook or disregard a major
economic issue, arguably the issue that will shape the future growth of the
But despite the difficult economic situation of most people, who
can barely make ends meet on the less than NIS 6,000 a month they earn, it seems
that for the conference organizers and the well-heeled elites, it’s all quiet on
the economic front.
Could it be that these people who pride themselves on
their social consciousness and solidarity don’t really care? What other
explanation do we have for the embarrassing silence of the conference and its
participants when it comes to the shameful condition of millions of workers,
who, for decades now, cannot make it on their salaries. How can we explain that
at such an important conference there is no discussion of the central factor
responsible for this situation – the excessive economic and political
concentration that prevents our economy from fulfilling its potential,
exacerbates social tension, corrupts both the economy and politics and
impoverishes so many?
If it were possible to turn a whole conference around in
the last minute to deal with the events in Egypt, why was it not possible, as
the organizers claimed, to add even a roundtable discussion to deal with this
ALL THIS when concentration – as was asserted recently by most of
the speakers at the Ne’eman Center (affiliated with the Technion) Conference –
is the chief cause for lack of competition and lack of efficiency in the
economy. These two factors are the reasons for the relatively low productivity
of our capable workers – only two-thirds of American workers and for their low
Concentration is also behind the ability of the tycoon-owned
monopolies to highly inflate the price of all consumer goods and services. The
worker is caught in a vice between low wages and high prices, and is simply
strangled by them.
Under the brilliant leadership of Dr. Uzi Arad, his
consultants and aides, the Herzliya Conference became an important international
event devoted to national security. Arad and his associates became
convinced that economics plays a major role in national strength. I was
privileged to direct the economic section of the Herzliya Conference in its
first three years, and there was always a tension with those who wanted all of
the time to be devoted to security and not to economics and education. Still, in
the past the conference never missed a major economic issue as it did
Under the chairmanship of Danny Rothschild the conference made
additional strides forward, though it is difficult to judge what is its
contribution to the decision-making process. Governance (to be discussed in one
of the sessions) is even more problematic here than elsewhere because of the
wider involvement of government in everyday life. It causes more problems than
it pretends to solve.
One important innovation is the introduction of
roundtable discussions. They will facilitate a wider and deeper
discussion of issues by more participants. In the past there was a lack of
opportunity for participants who were not on panels, some of whom were people of
great substance and achievement, to get a hearing. Now it should be
This makes the disappointment with the lack of any mention of a
crucial issue even greater. Just by forming another roundtable, easily done at
the last minute, the problem could have been solved. But the organizers chose
instead to present two sessions devoted to the global economy, another on trade
with the East, a session on employment in the Arab sector (why not employment
generally, is it not as important though perhaps less politically correct?), one
on the economic ramifications of the regional turmoil, one on women’s leadership
and a last on the digital environment in education.
All these are
certainly important topics. But they pale in significance when compared with the
major issue of concentration, which was not included on the agenda, the
organizers explained, “after prolonged and deep deliberation.”
struggle against debilitating concentration may turn to be historic, with
enormous ramification for the economy and its well-being. It would be
interesting to know why it was deliberately excluded.
The writer is
director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.