The battle over salary caps for top corporate executives is directly linked to the corruption affairs currently being investigated, not only because the two cases involve substantial corruption, but also because they reflect the current state of things in Israel. The only thing that matters here is money. The corruption affairs have revealed that people in public positions did not view the assets and capital under their control as a means to shape society, the state and the people who live here. They viewed it as a vehicle for lining their pockets.
The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once suggested that various types of capital could be converted into other kinds of capital. Society is built on a variety of types of capital and power, each with its own value. Money is only one of them, and it can be converted into other kinds of capital and power such as education, social status and beauty.
This means that a person with no money can possess a different kind of power, which he can exchange for money. No less important, however, he can decide not to exchange it for money because his nonmonetary capital is capital and power in its own right, and some people prefer it to money. This includes public stature that shapes a person's way of life, education that shapes ways of thinking and provides new options, art that is appreciated for its beauty and creativity, and a whole range of other possibilities.
Israel has undergone a transition to extreme neoliberalism, during which the public has been intimidated. Haaretz journalist Aluf Benn has called this process "national capitalism." Money has become the only power that matters. Not education, not ability, not excellence, not uniqueness, not reputation. In addition, even holding public office is not really valued anymore, not even social status and background. (Beauty, meanwhile, is as plentiful as garbage, and is treated accordingly). The only thing that determines your status in today's Israel, what you are worth and what you can attain, is how much money you have.
So the race for money is in full swing, in all its insanity. Almost any symbolic, cultural, social or other kind of capital is up for sale, and its value is constantly declining. It's also clear that people with money find it much easier to obtain the means to make even more money.
In the process, money is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, giving them more power to do what they want and serving their interests in every field of endeavor. This leaves less money and power in the hands of most members of society. (Simply for illustrative purposes, a report by the Adva Center to be released today shows that employers' share of national income has risen over the past decade to 17 percent, while employees' share has fallen to 60 percent.)
Earlier this week I spent hours trying to find one "senior executive" willing to talk about the proposed law to cap his salary. I didn't find one. Everyone politely declined. A senior media expert told me, with justification, that if someone has butter on his head, he doesn't go out in the sun. It's also clear that there really is no way to justify a salary of NIS 1.5 million a month, even if it's being paid to an executive whose company has huge earnings.
The monumental support for salary caps for top executives, which is coming from some totally unexpected sources, is evidence of a backlash against greed, arrogance, ostentation and exploitation. Too many people have exploited too many other people for too long. The camel's back is beginning to break.
The battle for limits on the salaries of senior executives is not "only" a battle over a more egalitarian distribution of money. It marks the beginning of Israeli society's battle to recover its positions of power that don't necessarily depend on money. It's a battle by parts of society for the right to hold capital that is not monetary and still be a powerful player in society. There are other kinds of capital, and each variety has value in its own right. And they are beginning to come to the fore.
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