All That Glitters / Stanley Fischer, Please Don't Go

Fischer remains a superb governor of the Bank of Israel, perhaps the best ever.

Fitch, which ratified Israel's A/Stable credit rating at the end of last week, did not have time to factor in the possibility that Israel would lose Stanley Fischer.

Actually, even if the credit rating agency had known that the respected Bank of Israel governor might be named the next chairman of the International Monetary Fund, replacing Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it wouldn't have changed its rating. Credit rating agencies base their ratings on economic fundamentals and forecasts, not the identity of state officials. But in their heart of hearts, the Fitch analysts would have known that Fischer's departure would be a new entry on the list of Israel's economic risks.

fischer - Tomer Appelbaum - May 30 2011
Tomer Appelbaum

Fischer remains a superb governor of the Bank of Israel, perhaps the best ever. The fact that so many economic sources have crowned him the best candidate speaks for itself. His hand guided Israel to safe harbor through six years of economic upheaval. The Israeli economy was growing before the great economic crisis and was damaged much less than any other Western country.

Then as the crisis began to wind down, Israeli economic growth resumed. The labor market is buoyant and unemployment is low, a state of affairs the rest of the West can only envy.

But Fischer brought Israel much more than decision-making powers of an experienced, talented economist. Because he's an American, because his children don't work in Israel and because he came to the job with a reputation built up abroad, he became the first truly independent governor of the Bank of Israel.

He was independent of the politicians, the tycoons, academia and potential employers for himself and his children. That in and of itself made him extraordinary: He was free to shape the economic agenda as he saw fit, boldly going into areas no central banker had gone before.

That's how he got Bank Hapoalim Chairman Danny Dankner dismissed, for mismanagement of the bank, despite the belligerent resistance of tycoons and their pet media outlets. He also tipped the scales on the battle over the state's royalties from gas - Fischer, not the prime minister.

The prime minister for economic affairs

Fischer has become Israel's prime minister for economic affairs. He leads the battle against soaring housing prices. He warns the loudest over the state of education in Israel and the state of the poor. There is practically no area, other than foreign policy and defense, where he hasn't allowed himself to intervene. That's how it is when you're perceived as the only responsible adult in government, when you have a local and international reputation unmatched by any of your predecessors. And thus his personal reputation has come to reflect on Israel.

But who could replace him?

As far as is known, Fischer would very much like to lead the IMF. He is 67: It would be a glorious end to a brilliant career. When accepting a second term as governor of the Bank of Israel, he hinted that he might not see it through, which had the pundits wondering if he hadn't cocked an eye at another job, like president of Israel when Shimon Peres retires.

Until the deal is closed, Fischer isn't saying that he even wants the IMF job. When asked about such things, he always answers that he doesn't comment on jobs he hasn't been offered.

If he's offered this one, Israelis will face a dilemma. On the one hand, one would like to thank him for his brilliant time in office and take pride in having an Israeli lead the IMF. But can a successor be found who would be independent and daring like Stanley Fischer?

Given the paralysis of the political system and its dependence on big business (and party centers ), Israel needs an independent governor for its central bank more than ever, a person whom the narrow interest groups can't touch. As the soccer fans in the stands howl when a favorite player gets an offer from a foreign team: "Stanley Fischer, stay, stay, stay."