On Wednesday, four private member's bills were submitted to the Knesset for potential Basic Laws on Social Rights. The bills were submitted by members of the opposition so that the social and economic rights of every resident of Israel would be enshrined in law.
The coalition voted down every one of the bills, but let's assume that the Barak government had gotten one of the bills through in 2000, and then the Palestinian uprising had broken out. Tourism would have collapsed in the blink of an eye, the economy would have entered serious crisis, the budget deficit would have swelled, Israel's sovereign credit rating would have been downgraded and the dollar-shekel exchange rate would have shot skyward, until the real danger of financial crisis ended with economic collapse, widespread unemployment and serious poverty.
This crisis situation would have required the cabinet to take a series of serious steps to try to balance the budget. It would have been forced to cut spending, slash child subsidies, chop old age stipends, reduce guaranteed income, raise the tax on labor, impose capital gains tax, fire public sector employees and cut the wages of those that remained.
But wait, none of that could happen, if there was a Basic Law on Social Rights. After all, any necessary budget cut plan that the government could propose would contravene the basic law, because there isn't a budget cut that doesn't hurt.
Fortunately for us, the law didn't exist, and the cruel government carried out a series of tough measures in the past two years that saved the economy from total collapse (pretty much at the last possible moment). It is still possible to pay reduced stipends, it is still possible to provide education and health services (on a smaller scale). The currency market has calmed down, and interest rates are falling, and the state managed to raise financing abroad - something it couldn't do a year ago - and the weaker sectors didn't end up in abject poverty as happened in similar crises in Russia and South America.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak and other senior jurists justify legislating a Basic Law on Social Rights. But such a law would make the Supreme Court in an ?ber-Finance Ministry. Every bill - for instance, to impose a new tax or reduce child subsidies - would end up with the courts deciding whether it was acceptable or not. Every annual state budget would face judgment by the Supreme Court, which would castrate the entire democratic process.
Allocating resources is the core of the democratic process, the chief difficulty being in deciding among alternatives, but those decisions must be made by the Knesset, whose publicly elected members can be voted out of power if they fail. Which is not true of the Supreme Court. And who decided that the social ideology of a given bench is truer or more just than the decision of the duly-elected Knesset?
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