New plan calls on government to adopt radical socioeconomic reforms

Reducing inequality and poverty does not need to come at the cost of boosting economic growth, according to new research published this week by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, which also called on the government to adopt some radical changes in socioeconomic policy to improve the current situation. The research, which forms the basis of a comprehensive national plan aimed at narrowing gaps, reducing poverty and increasing growth, was distributed Monday to all government ministers and policy-makers. "This is an important time for change," highlighted Prof. Dan Ben-David, executive director of the Taub Center and an economics professor at Tel Aviv University, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "Today's economic crisis provides an extraordinary opportunity to solve some of the country's long-running socioeconomic problems." Ben-David explained that "Israel's current long-term trajectory is simply unsustainable. One of the main arguments is that every minister looks only at how the budget is going to affect his own turf and does not view the entire picture. Our plan forces them to look at all the elements and see how they mesh together." The plan comes less than a week after a series of severe budget cuts were proposed by the Finance Ministry, and just days before the administration deliberates the 2009 national budget and its accompanying economic arrangements bill. Even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he would most likely cancel the majority of proposed cutbacks, as social welfare activists claimed they would ultimately hurt the weak and needy, Ben-David noted that now was the optimum time for the government to completely change the way it approached society and the economy. "The prime minister will have to show willingness to go against the grain of previous governments if he wants to make these changes happen," he said. The plan involves three main spheres: providing individuals with the incentives and tools to go out to work and encouraging firms to utilize local manpower; building a supportive environment where people are realistically able to reach the workplace, including longer school days and upgraded transportation infrastructure; and, finally, a multiannual strategic program of educational reform, budget transparency and an advanced social welfare policy. "The severe economic crisis that this country is entering requires unconventional policies from the government," finished Ben-David. "However, it also provides the country with an opportunity to implement a comprehensive program that political reality has made impossible in the past. This is a rare window of opportunity that will not remain open forever."