Three kinds of services the state is here to provide

And the story of the new neighborhood in Hebron.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tour Mount Avital in the Golan Heights (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tour Mount Avital in the Golan Heights
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Last month Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he had authorized the building of a new neighborhood in Hebron. It took me a while to figure out why it bothers me so much. It was somewhere between “He’s a minister just because the Prime Minister, a man who was indicted in three cases, has made him so” and “Should a minister in a transitional government be making such decisions?” Those two thoughts have driven me to try and figure out for myself the roles a country should assume.
The first role out of three is a provider of services and goods – defense, street lightning and so on. The second role of a country is to be kind of a “mega-insurance-company”: we pay taxes and in return, we will receive medical care when necessary, education (should we ever decide to have kids) or assistance from a social worker, in case we need it. It is not regular insurance, as the risk of one of those things happening is so high that it would make no sense for a regular insurance company to sell us such a product.
The third role is the most problematic of all. It seems, to many people, that the country is a source of identity and pride. As such, the country is working rather hard to provide us with reasons to be proud (for example, investing in sports). But where is the limit?
When Bennett, with no real and legitimate mandate from “the people”, has announced the building of a new neighborhood in Hebron, he added a few more items to the list of the services the country should provide: a few more soldiers to guard this neighborhood, materials, and people to build the infrastructure of that neighborhood and a few diplomats to try and explain to the (not so friendly as it is) world why do we think it’s okay to do that.
But does he have the right to do so? Why should we, the public, pay for it?
Building a new neighborhood in Hebron is something way out of public consensus. While many will agree with a statement such as “it’s important to try and reduce the amount of battered women, I will take pride in being a member of a society that is free of gender-based violence”, the statement “building in Hebron is a matter of national pride, I will be proud to be a member of a society that does that” won’t be as popular.
So why should the public have to pay for that?
In economics, there’s a debate about the best way to fund public goods. Maybe it’s time to have the same debate about funding public sources of pride. Why should the tax-payer fund the new neighborhood in Hebron, if most taxpayers don’t think it’s necessary and would rather prioritize differently?
A better way to fund such projects, in my opinion, is to publish their price and ask people to pay-back that price to the government. Do you want a new neighborhood in Hebron? The overall cost to the public is going to be X-million dollars over the next 20 years. Raise that money for us and we will provide you with the services you need. You want to invest in a controversial movie that might win an Oscar and be a source of national pride? Wonderful! Tell us how much money you need. If you manage to raise that amount – the assistance to the movie is yours. If not – that’s just too bad.
The simplest response to that will be to tell me that Bennett was elected, and that means enough people think that his priorities are the right ones.
But that’s just it. He’s part of a party that didn’t make it into the Knesset in the first round of the elections. He became minister of defense because a PM that didn’t manage to get the majority he needs to be a legitimate prime minister needed him. He is, basically, your teenage nephew who’s doing some house-sitting for you and throwing a major party without your consent while doing it.
Polina Kempinsky is a PPE student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former youth delegate to the UN.