Analysis: Wisconsin - Balancing the stick and the carrot

Are you for or against the Wisconsin Plan? Chances are that if you don't have any personal experience with it, (that is, you are not a chronically unemployed person participating in the program, or a social worker) you don't really know what it is. The ambitious plan to eradicate chronic unemployment and wean people off government benefits and back into the workplace is the unwanted child of Israeli officialdom. It has been a football kicked from administration to administration and, just days after its launch 10 months ago, industry, trade and labor minister Ehud Olmert - who was supposed to be in charge of its implementation - replace finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It hasn't had a minister fully dedicated to backing it since. There also hasn't been much serious discussion about it. The left-wing social concerns spouted clich s of hard-hearted employers and capitalistic ministers, while the government put up an anemic radio campaign that almost assuredly caused listeners to tune out. The media, meanwhile, quite understandably find the subject distinctly unsexy and only when there's a juicy story of 60 year-old nuclear scientist sent on a compulsory course on worker-boss relations, is there a story buried somewhere on the inside pages. To hold a serious opinion on the plan, you've got to have a wide knowledge of employment policy in Israel and abroad, firmly held beliefs on social affairs and usually a vested interest. So is the plan a serious social program to force those leading a parasitic lifestyle to take some responsibility over their lives, or just another cruel, cannibalistic scheme aimed at feathering the pockets of private advisers while pushing the underclass further downwards? To venture an opinion a journalist would have to be more of a charlatan than he usually is. Most of those who think they have some kind of opinion are rarely well-informed or really involved. In his election campaign tours, Labor leader Amir Peretz met people who complained about the plan. "The Wisconsin Plan takes people's dignity without giving them real work," he ritually proclaimed, and promised to cancel the plan. After the elections it wasn't even mentioned in the coalition talks and Labor made no serious attempt to receive the relevant ministry. Now the minister in charge is Shas's Eli Yishai, and he hasn't yet decided whether to continue with the program. His spokesman said on Sunday that the plan's future is under consultation and that "the minister is concerned with balancing between the stick and the carrot." And if he can bring that off, he deserves a free trip to Wisconsin.