Despite the critics, Klein did not budge. Bitten badly when he slashed nominal interest by 2 percent in December 2001, he is now extremely shy and will not cross the 0.5 percent barrier, no matter what. Nor has he stepped up the pace and cut interest more frequently than once a month, even though the macroeconomic situation calls for such a move. Klein therefore only reduced the rate yesterday by half a percentage point, leaving it at a much-too-high 7 percent - despite the heavy recession, low inflation forecast and drop in the money supply.
Klein's logic is simple: Let the critics criticize away, and wait a couple of months until the rate reaches 5.5-6.0 percent, when they will calm down. Over time, journalists and the treasury will forget the blow that the economy will have taken in the meantime: the slow growth rate, the shrinking investments, the exchange rate that is too low, the dwindling exports, the businesses that have gone bankrupt, the public that pays excessive interest - and the unemployed.
This may be the safest way to reduce the interest rate, but you don't need a college degree and years of experience to do it. Wearing a belt and suspenders and holding your pants in both hands will definitely keep them from falling down - but it will also keep you from doing anything else.
Data released yesterday by the Central Bureau of Statistics did not soften Klein either, although it indicated that unemployment was not going down: 10.8 percent of the labor force, which means 280,000 people without jobs. And the Industry and Trade Ministry yesterday forecast that unemployment would rise next year to 11.4-12 percent.
Against this backdrop, industry and trade deputy minister Michael Razon said he would fight the treasury's decision to slash the budget of the ministry's employment service, which has overrun its budget by NIS 11 million. Such a budget cut would hit many Israelis who need the service now more than ever, he said. "Need"? Just to get the necessary papers to collect unemployment, but not to get actual jobs.
The state comptroller's report reviewed the operations of the employment service and found many irregularities and much waste. One of the comptroller's conclusions was: "The employment service contributes little to reducing unemployment. In the first half of 1999, it managed, on average, to find work for 3.7 percent of all job seekers." If maintaining 1,100 employees in 120 offices throughout the country for such inefficient results is not wastefulness, what is?
There is a much better way to reduce unemployment: Close down the employment service and let placement companies in the private sector do the job. The number of job seekers will drop drastically in no time, benefiting both them and the economy as a whole.
There's just one snag: What jobs will the ministers then give their cronies? Ehud Olmert is trying to appoint Likud activist David Re'em to head the employment service. If it is closed down, where will Re'em work?
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