Ehud Olmert and his director-general, Ra'anan Dinur, thought they would have things easy. They would sit down with representatives of the manufacturers and the large chains, give in to all their demands (as the Industry Ministry usually does) and with a stroke of the pen would cancel the greatest achievement of Israel's consumer public - the marking of prices on every item.
They did not take into account the strength of the opposition emanating now from all strata of the public, from the consumer organizations and from political circles. The chair of the Knesset's Economics Committee, Shalom Simhon, yesterday came out against the intention to change the price-tag system and said he is opposed to the "experiment." Sinhon knows it is fairly simple to "prove" that the public is simply dying to return to a situation where its eyes are bound and it cannot see the price of any product. Money, after all, can arrange anything.
Meanwhile Simhon will have to torpedo another absurd idea of Dinur's and Olmert's: transferring details of the product, such as the name and address of the importer, from the item to the shelf. Is there no limit to the extent these two are prepared to bow down before the gods of mammon?
If the ministry were headed by people with an education in economics, this type of scandal would be unthinkable. But Ehud Olmert has no economics background (although he, of course, understands any subject better than anyone else). Nor does his director-general have such an education.
An economist would be unable to harm the most important mechanism of the market economy - the price mechanism - in this way. An economist would understand that when the price tag is clear and it is easy to compare it with others, the economy's resources are distributed better and it is better for the consumer.
The law making it mandatory to mark all prices was passed in 1998 after a prolonged struggle, but Dinur is convinced that everything begins with him. He explains that "there are sophisticated technological methods today to present the price on the shelf." But these very "electronic" systems are the ones the manufacturers tried to sell us in 1998, and failed to do so. He also does not know that they promised to raise prices steeply because of the costs of marking products, but, lo and behold, the inflation actually plummeted because consumers began comparing prices and buying where it was cheaper.
Had Dinur devoted time to studying the subject, he would have discovered that the milk manufacturers claimed that marking prices would cause the milk to sour, because it would take so much time, and we would all be poisoned. Meanwhile every yogurt is marked and no one has had to be hospitalized.
Now Dinur is talking about "compelling the manufacturer to mark the price on the product." This is yet another case of stupidity and final proof that he understands nothing about economics, because centralized marking of prices means centralized control, a perfect monopoly and the end of all competition.
Perhaps Dinur and Olmert should know that Benjamin Netanyahu will, in any case, torpedo their move. Netanyahu said yesterday at a private meeting in the Finance Ministry: "My agreement is also required in order to change the price-tag law, and I will see to it that this will not come to pass."
It is therefore worthwhile for Dinur to pull up his socks and understand that he has made a mistake. He should announce that the "experiment" and the "survey" are being cancelled - and leave the public in peace.
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