Israel Will Never Be Like Sweden

All those who dream of the Swedish model must first work like they do in Sweden, seriously, efficiently, maintaining a high level of productivity, and then deal with the other differences between us and them.

Several years ago, I visited Sweden. One evening, I was invited to the home of the Israeli ambassador, who told me he was leaving on a two-week vacation the next day, during which time his home would be renovated.

Tomorrow at 8 AM, he said, a team of workers will come over, and I will hand them my keys and go on vacation. They will work every day from 8 AM until 5 PM, and I know with 100 percent certainty that when I return home, the renovation will be completed precisely according to plan. The house will be clean and in order, and I will be able to continue my work as if there had not been any renovation.

"Wait a minute," I said. "How do you know that they will actually show up? Perhaps there will be a delay, or perhaps they will get a more attractive job offer and put yours off for a week."

He looked at me with a smile and said, "This is Sweden, not Israel."

So, all those who dream of the Swedish model must first work like they do in Sweden - seriously, efficiently, maintaining a high level of productivity - and then deal with the other differences between us and them.

In Sweden, 75 percent of the work force goes to work every morning. In Israel, that figure stands at only 57 percent. This massive difference explains the significant contrast in the standard of living. If we adopted the Swedish model, there would be 3.9 million people employed instead of the current 3 million. The per capita GDP of $30,000 would rise to $35,000. That is a huge difference.

In Sweden, there is no group that does not participate in the economic effort. There is no population of Haredim, the majority of whom do not work. There are no Haredi parties whose concern at all times is to increase the benefits and support that the state provides for the Haredim.

In Israel, the treasury pays an annual NIS 1 billion "kollel fee" for people who do not work, but for the university students it charges tuition. In other words, studying the Gemara by rote is more important than studying engineering, medicine, economics and literature. Absurd as it may sound, the "kollel fee" is higher than the salary of a soldier doing mandatory service. At the kollel, they receive about NIS 900 per month, while a soldier receives only NIS 350 to NIS 700 per month. This is incredibly upsetting: To serve and risk your life, and to get less money than those who evade the draft?

Participation in the labor market also is very low among the Bedouin and Arab communities: Most of the women do not work, and tax evasion is rampant. The middle class, therefore, suffers the burden. It has to pay more taxes in order to carry on its back these two communities, whose growth rates are high.

There is another difference between Sweden and Israel: defense spending. Sweden conducted a policy of "neutrality" during the past century, and thus managed to skip over two world wars without having to suffer the cost or the destruction. Its defense budget is small, while here the defense budget is the highest in the world (compared to the GDP ) and constitutes about 25 percent of the state budget.

Sweden also does not spend billions every year on settlements - for security, subsidized housing, expensive infrastructure, expansive roads, cheap day care for children, and large budgets for the local councils. On the other hand, it has significant natural wealth - lumber, iron ore and hydro-electric power.

In addition, Sweden has a free market economy that is highly competitive and has no protectionist policies on imports. Here, on the other hand, there are monopolies and high import tariffs on food, which prevent competition and cause high prices that make it difficult for the middle class.

Therefore, we will never be Sweden. In any case, it will not happen until the contractors come on time, and the coalition is free of Haredim and settlers. Until then, we can go on dreaming.