Fundamentally Freund: My big fat Jewish nanny state

It is about time that we learn a simple truth: More government doesn’t necessarily mean better government.

Knesset 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool )
Knesset 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai/Pool )
Shortly before the start of the recent summer recess, the Knesset passed one of the dumbest laws in the annals of Israel’s parliamentary democracy.
Dubbed the “Book and Authors Bill,” the legislation had the admirable goal of undermining the duopolistic power of Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim, which control the local market to the detriment of consumers.
But, like many well-intentioned government schemes, this too has fallen victim to outlandish overreach bordering on the absurd.
According to the new law, bookstores will be prohibited from selling a book at less than the publisher’s suggested retail price. It also requires stores to give prominence to books from different publishers, regulates the royalties and payments that authors receive and even prohibits encouraging salesmen to promote certain titles.
Believe it or not, a special “book police,” force, comprising inspectors working for the Economy Ministry, will be tasked with enforcing the law and penalizing violators with fines.
This is socialist central planning at its worst.
Is it really the place of government to determine the allocation of shelf space in your local neighborhood bookstore? Do we really want a store owner to be punished for the horrible crime of selling a book to his patrons at a discount? Ironically, what the government is doing in order to save the free market is to create a market that is not truly free. But what is particularly remarkable about this inane law is the utter lack of debate that surrounded it.
There was little if any discussion of fundamental questions regarding individual liberty, property rights or the proper role of government in regulating the marketplace.
It was simply taken for granted that the benevolent bureaucrats in Jerusalem have the right to stick their noses into every crevice and corners of our lives and attempt to socially engineer various aspects of our collective existence.
Unfortunately, the book bill is hardly the only example of the ongoing invasion of our freedom by a domineering, overbearing and imperious bureaucracy.
Take, for example, the so-called “Photoshop Law” which was passed back in March 2012.
In an effort to combat the spread of eating disorders, the bill barred underweight models from modeling clothes on the runway at fashion shows.
Among other things the law requires that models demonstrate they have a body-mass index, or BMI, of at least 18.5. Otherwise, advertisers are prohibited from utilizing them.
The logic behind this requirement, if it can be called that, is that lawmakers wanted to promote a more healthy sense of body image.
However laudable that goal may be does not mean that legislation is the best way to accomplish it. After all, there is no known scientific evidence which proves a correlation between skinny models and rates of anorexia.
Furthermore, it is a clear act of government intrusion, one that tramples on a designer or a company’s freedom of expression.
As the University of Wisconsin’s Prof.
Donald Downs, a free speech expert, noted, “In the US, it would be hard to justify this type of law on either legal or normative policy grounds. The Israeli law is paternalistic in that it prohibits something because of the effect it might have on others in the longer term.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t like super-skinny models any more than the next guy. But what I like even less is when the government starts deciding just how much flesh on her bones a model needs to have.
There are of course an abundance of other instances in which the government injects itself unnecessarily into our daily lives, creating a whole host of inefficiencies and headaches for all concerned. And this is something that should worry us all because it encourages a sense of dependence and undermines the freedom that lies at the heart of our democracy.
Indeed, it would appear that after 2,000 years without a government of our own, the Jewish people cannot seem to get enough of it.
We have created a big, fat Jewish nanny state, one with a bloated bureaucracy that has few if any qualms about legislating and micromanaging our lives.
The result is as predictable as it is detrimental: a system in which the individual and his ability to determine his own fate is quashed under an avalanche of government-ordained rules and regulations.
Finding the delicate balance between personal liberty and public need is something that every democracy struggles with, and in this regard Israel is no exception.
But it is about time that we learn a simple truth: More government doesn’t necessarily mean better government.
If anything, it is the opposite that is usually the case.