If the attorney general announces shortly that he has decided not to press charges against the prime minister in the Greek Island affair, we will all have to change everything we understood about bribes and fair wages. Because if someone (David Appel) is prepared to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels and to promise millions more to a consultant that knows nothing about tourism or marketing (Gilad Sharon), what should be the proper wage for a professional?
In any case, Shimon Peres' sigh of relief could be heard from here to kingdom come. But it does throw up a number of questions in the economic-social field. Labor party aficionados drew up a new list this week of what they would like to see changed in the government's order of priorities. They want to increase the welfare budget, reinstate some of the cuts made to income support, increase grants to the local authorities, spend more on institutions of higher learning, and raise teachers' wages. Former finance minister Avraham Shochat said he objected to "Netanyahu's crazy drive for lowering taxes." In his opinion, any extra state revenues should be spent on helping the weaker members of society - and the Labor party knows exactly how to define such groups.
Behind the heartrending slogans lies a social-economic policy that is diametrically opposed to that of Netanyahu. The finance minister is leading a policy of encouraging people to go to work: fewer welfare payments to those who do not work, reducing the number of foreign workers in the country, lowering taxes on labor, and promoting a Wisconsin program that encourages the chronic unemployed to get back into the labor circuit. But the Labor party is after instant popularity. It wants to get back to the policy of handing out fish instead of granting fishing rods, despite the fact that the former never solves the problem of poverty and want, but only worsens it.
The party wants to turn Netanyahu's policy on its head, returning to the old system of feeding the fat man (the public sector - Netanyahu's metaphor), while continuing to make things worse for the thin man (the private sector). The result will be bigger budgets, weightier deficits and a brake on economic growth.
If Labor gets back into government, all the important reforms will stop. Shochat opposes taking mutual and provident funds out of the banks' hands, as does the Histadrut's Amir Peretz. The Histadrut has already made its objections clear, as it represents the interests of the banks' workers unions, and not the interest of the man in the street, which labors under exorbitant banking fees and interest rates. If Labor gets into government, it will put paid to the most important reforms of the ports, just like Ephraim Sneh did when he was transportation minister, caving in to the ports' large workers committees. Once Peretz came in, the labor party was no longer the social democratic party, but the unionistic party, defending the large unions, at the expense of the public's welfare.
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