Dangerous infatuation

Israelis still think government is the solution to all their problems including the dollar's devaluation.

knesset 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
knesset 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israelis - and especially their university educated elites - seem to have a dangerous infatuation, a puzzling delusion about the capability of their governments to solve almost any problem. Otherwise how can one explain the recent crop of suggestions by ostensibly mature people, holding responsible positions, that government protect them from the vagaries of the dollar exchange rate or from rising housing costs. For decades Israelis have been taking cruel and usual punishment, from runaway inflation to low wages, to monopoly induced inflated costs, to the erosion of their pensions, as a result of their trust in government management of the economy. Yet they keep asking for more, at ever growing costs, though it should have become obvious that governments cannot deliver what they expect. Governments can no more control powerful economic forces that change the rate of the dollar or the costs of housing, than they can control the rise and fall of tides. Israelis should have discovered by now that the more government over reaches, the less it can deliver. In fact governments create, and then aggravate, most of our problems. When governments' fingers are stuck, as in Israel, in every pie, they are incapable of doing anything. They cannot even perform their legitimate tasks, like protecting the people of Sderot from Kassam attacks. Without government society would sink into murderous anarchy. But to fulfill its essential tasks - its "night watchman" role of protecting us from internal and external violence and of enforcing contracts - governments must be kept limited and not overly ambitious and overburdened. To be effective they must remain small. They can then focus on delivering public goods such as law and order, security and some infrastructure. Even these tasks may prove daunting for most governments - political bodies whose chief function is the election of the politicians who make them up. Liberals who choose to believe in governments' endless capacity to do good - despite overwhelming evidence that governments are innately incompetent, that they are bedeviled by too may goals, mostly conflicting or confusing, that their executive arm, their bureaucracies, lack the capacity for the efficient execution of policy - should travel from Tel Aviv to Ben-Gurion airport. From the flat landscape they will see rising a huge mound - the Hiriyah garbage dump. It is really a monument for the capacity of Israeli governments, Left and Right. They failed, for over 50 years, to move this dump from its present location on valuable real estate, to the Negev desert. Still we expect them to provide us with good education, health care, pensions and what not. OUR GOVERNMENTS have been failing even in their provision of security, internal and external. Their police force gave up protecting life and limb, let alone of property. Its performance can remind you of the Keystone cops, thought the latter did at least not break the law with impunity, and were not tainted by spreading corruption. As for external security it is puzzling why we need to be periodically reminded by investigative commissions that our highly motivated, powerful and excellent fighting forces have been rendered dysfunctional by an increasingly incompetent and corrupt political leadership and by the army's own politicized leadership. The Yom Kippur War, the first and the second Lebanon wars and the many severe security lapses in between should have alerted us to the rot spreading through our political and security establishments. Our leadership conveniently embraced the stupid notion that terrorism cannot be vanquished by force, though all historical evidence (from the Assassins in the 11th century on to The Arab Revolt of '36-'39, Communist insurrections in Greece and in Malaya, the Red Brigades, The Shining Path, The Bader Meinhoff gang and others) proves that only force, mostly the wholesale elimination of the terrorists' leadership (which Israel has failed to do) is what vanquished them. Small wonder that when you do not expect to win you cannot put a stop to seven years of Kassam barrages by a couple of thousands rag tag terrorists, or that you fail to cope with the better trained 15,00 strong Hizbullah fighters. GOVERNMENTS are innately incompetent. Moreover, they often also engage in pernicious activities presented as a great boon to the people but designed to benefit politicians. The welfare state, ostensibly meant to help the poor actually perpetuates and even worsens their plight. Last week The National Insurance Institute issued its semi-annual "Poverty Report." Few ask why after close to 60 years of spending scores of billions in welfare transfers, the number of the poor keeps growing. Most of the growth probably results from the employment of a statistical fraud: the Ginny Coefficient. It is not only a relativistic measurement that increases the number of the poor as the income of those above an imaginary poverty line grows, but it is based on a dishonest manipulation of statistical factors such as the equivalency scale and on a very questionable income survey. Poverty is a debilitating and serious social ill. We should not tolerate its being manipulated by the social lobby and the "poverty industry," by vested interests whose welfare and political clout derive from the exploitation and perpetuation of poverty. We face many serious problems in Israel. They are only aggravated by our blind faith in government, in a bunch of politicians who cynically pursue their own self interest at our expense.