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Friday, January 20, 2006

Economic exhaustion and political passivity

In today's JPost, Daniel Doron takes a shot at explaining why Israelis are planning on voting for Ariel Sharon's Ehud Olmert's Kadima Achora party:

Economic exhaustion and political passivity

... But even the conviction that Sharon, with all his faults, was the best leader because he was determined "to do what is necessary" does not explain fully the curious reaction of the Israeli people to his (and their) predicament. Why do Israelis, as they gradually come to realize that Sharon may not be able to lead them, keep flocking to his party, ignoring its amorphous, problematic composition, its undemocratic nature, and its lack of any known concrete plans for meeting the daunting challenges facing Israel?

True, in times of national emergency people tend to support leadership, even when it is not really great. Israelis are no different. After a century of bloody conflict with the Arabs, after the Second World War and the Holocaust, Israelis are exhausted. So they seek a leader who can lighten some of the impossible burdens they bear.

The clamor for a strong father figure could, however, further damage an already brittle Israeli democracy. Suffering from an extreme concentration of power - not only political, but also economic - Israel has already damaged orderly governance by relying too heavily on the predilections, indeed the whims, of a few central players.

In the banking industry, for example, less than half a dozen people have, for decades, been allocating hundreds of billions in loans to a few big players with disastrous results. Two decades of productive investment were lost and the economy almost collapsed.

THE SAME self-destructive concentration of excessive power has made Israeli governments unruly behemoths. Even the best managers, following a coherent policy set by a strong "board of directors," would find impossible to manage them. They have too many conflicting tasks, from allocating land and airwave rights (making the winners billionaires) to assuring the proper branding of camels and the right amount of jelly in Hanukka doughnuts. Their Byzantine bureaucracies are incapable of executing anything resembling a coherent policy. When they overcome their habitual paralysis, they implement a mishmash of conflicting political impulses, their left hand often undoing what their right hand has been trying to accomplish at great cost.

The Prime Minister's Office, for example, has so many responsibilities and concerns that it cannot possibly deal with them effectively. Yet Sharon, feeling frustrated with bureaucratic foot dragging, tried to move things by assuming ever-wider responsibilities, adding several ministries to his duties (after Sharon's illness, his deputy, Ehud Olmert, held 15 portfolios!). But this just created worse logjams and further incapacitated the government.

If Israel has made remarkable progress, it was despite its governments. All of them were marred by serious failures - some dramatic, others slow but unrelenting. Despite brilliantly winning many battles against great odds, Israeli governments invariably managed to snatch political defeat from the jaws of victory. They let a criminal terrorist organization win a propaganda war with great lies without seriously challenging them, thus losing crucial international support and permitting the PLO to implement its subversive agenda so that it became a strategic threat to Israel.

Following socialist and then statist economic policies, Israeli governments managed to turn a most talented people, full of energy and invention, into an economic cripple. Most families can barely keep their heads above water, finding its nearly impossible to make it on a salary of about $1,200 a month (this with prices usually higher than those in America!).

Read it all to find the answer.


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