On Friday, October 7, 1983, the excited voice of a radio news announcer informed listeners that the bank shares had crashed.
The crash was the result of the biggest manipulation in the history of the stock market. Senior bankers had been involved in the most irresponsible share price boost possible in order to augment their power and enrich themselves. The damage to the public and the economy was enormous.
A decade later other bankers pushed generous and cheap credit at their customers, encouraging them to buy bank-owned mutual funds invested in stocks, which contributed to the crash of '94. Two years ago, one bank was in danger of collapse and most of the banking system was in deep trouble due to exorbitant credit extended to their big customers, who had fallen and could not return the millions. Luckily for them and for us, the economy recovered slightly and crisis was averted.
Therefore, when the banks tell us now that everything they have is solid, they are not necessarily to be believed. It is precisely the over-involvement of the banks in all areas of finance that is a recipe for more crises.
As a result of the crash of '83, the Bejsky Commission recommended firing senior bankers and separating the banks from pension and mutual funds, and from advising clients on such purchases. But the Bejsky Commission recommendations have yet to be put into effect.
The bankers have taken advantage of their huge political and economic power to torpedo the recommendations. It is the unholy alliance between government and capital: the government (political parties) needs financing, which the banks can provide. Politicians have the power to pay the bankers by not implementing important recommendations, which makes both the bankers and the government happy. Only the economy of Israel and its citizens suffer.
Now another attempt is being made, by the Bachar Commission on market and capital reform, to put an end to the unyielding control of the banks over our pockets and the capital market by taking mutual and pension funds out of the hands of the banks.
If the Bachar Commission's recommendations are accepted, the capital market will grow and develop, it will be stable and more secure, bringing about more rapid growth of the economy and lowering unemployment. We will pay lower interest on loans and get higher interest on savings. Service will be better, commissions in the capital market will go down, and customers will find they are being courted.
But the bankers do not intend even for a moment to surrender. Recently they have transferred their attempts at persuasion to the prime minister and his bureau staff. They are bringing enormous pressure to bear, using baseless scare tactics warning of the disaster to the economy if the recommendations are implemented, and are hoping that in the difficult Israeli climate more important things will take over the agenda.
What is the chance that the reform will in fact pass? It depends on the political field. If Netanyahu remains in his present position, the chance for reform is great, since the finance minister wants to be credited for the reform, and Sharon is interested only in disengagement. A deal could develop along the lines of "don't bother me about the banks and I won't bother you about disengagement."
That being the case, the reform will pass next week in the cabinet. The banks will then begin pressuring Knesset members, among whom they also wield influence and power. But this time the MKs, like the public, are ripe for reform, with support crossing party lines.
If, however, Netanyahu joins the lines of the "rebels," making elections unavoidable next year, no one will be thinking about struggles against commissions and bankers, and the Bachar report will sink deep into the bottom of the drawer.
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