Yossi Sarid, Pensioner or Millionaire

"A man gets up in the morning, reads Haaretz, and suddenly discovers that he's one of the nouveau riche, a millionaire, and he hadn't even known it.

"That is exactly what happened to me this week, when I opened TheMarker and read the report 'Retiring and smiling', subheaded: 'How much they will cost us'. Zvi Zrahiya reporting from the Knesset treasury has credited me with NIS 6.14 million, not one shekel less.

"I embraced the report like a long-lost friend, but the more I read, the more disappointed I was. It told me that after 32 years of work at the Knesset, I was about to get a monthly pension, indeed an earth-shaking piece of news. If I had retired after decades of work at the newspaper, I would obviously be shivering naked on the streets. Only a Knesset member, one of the elite, receives a pension. My gain. How fortunate I am.

"The report also taught me that the wealth is reserved for me based on a calculation that I live to 80 or beyond: 14 years remaining to me, multiplied by 12 months, multiplied by my gross monthly stipend, and there they are: all those millions. Not bad, not bad at all, wouldn't it be nice if everybody was entitled to something like that. But based on the same calculation and a 32-year career, Israel is brimming with millionaires, including journalists and janitors too." (Former Knesset member Yossi Sarid, February 24, 2005, in his blog.)

Yossi Sarid has no rivals in Israeli politics, in his wit, his rhetoric, and his erudition, and now in the blog he writes for Haaretz.

Because of these very qualities, it is astonishing to discover that Sarid of all people is so detached from the economic realities of the people. If he hadn't been, he wouldn't have written that blog in response to the analysts of pension terms of Knesset members.

Sarid mocks the "discovery" that he is entitled to a pension of NIS 35,000 a month, gross; he seems to believe that all citizens are entitled to such retirement terms, so what's the story about at all.

Here are some economic facts of which he seems unaware.

As a veteran Knesset member, Sarid received a non-contributory pension, which is a perk that no private-sector employee ever receiver. During his first 29 years of work Sarid set aside not one shekel for his pension, while each month most of the people voting for him have to pay 5% or more of their salaries into a pension fund, provident fund or management insurance policy. Even the employer's contribution to the pension savings, 13% of the salary each month, gets rolled over onto the employee in part, through pressure on the wage when the labor market is weak.

 As a veteran Knesset member, Sarid could have retired 21 years ago, at age 45, and received his pension for life. As a former minister beyond 65 years of age, he receives a double pension: NIS 3,800 as a minister and NIS 32,000 as a parliamentarian.

 Maybe the long time that has passed, two and a half years, have erased Sarid's memory of the pension reform passed by the Knesset in which he sat. What was that reform? The government came along and with one sweep of its razor, slashed a quarter to a third of everybody's pension rights by raising the retirement age and raising provisions.

Why the metaphor of a razor? Because every man knows that a razor cuts sharp and quick. Sometimes the damage it does only becomes apparent later on, when you look in the mirror and realize you are bleeding.

The hundreds of thousands of pensioners with savings in pension funds haven't even had a chance to digest the reform and how their rights were savaged, but they'll discover had badly they are bleeding when they retire. Naturally, while about reform, the government didn't aim its razor at Sarid's pension or that of the entire public sector (mainly the security forces) and not one person in Sarid's Knesset so much as peeped at the sight of such discrimination, not even people receiving double pensions.

 Sarid seems to think that journalists and janitors receive pensions like his. He would be well advised that almost all private-sector workers receive at most 70% of their last salary as a gross pension stipend, and sometimes, a stipend based on the average of their wage, which works out to a lot less. Sarid receives 100% straight from the state kitty, and it's linked, too. The pensions received by people insured by provident funds depend on the performance of the stock market where their money is invested. For Sarid, fluctuations in the stock market or economy are merely headlines in the papers, an opportunity to say something amusing and witty.

Sarid ignores the time bomb birthed by the non-contributory pensions that he and his colleagues enjoy. It is a pity that during his years on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Sarid never demanded a serious debate on the terrifying speed at which the State of Israel's actuarial liabilities to the members of the security forces are mushrooming, from NIS 20 billion to NIS 100 billion in the space of 15 years.

Maybe if Sarid and all those ministers and generals in the Knesset and in government hadn't been entitled to non-contributory pensions, they'd spend a little less time dabbling in the political or security issue of the day, and a little more time understanding the economic reality of their voters.

Sarid is considered one of the best and most industrious parliamentarians Israel has ever had, but his detachment from the Israeli economic reality is not surprising. In an era of cruel, free markets, everybody knows that there is no padding more cozy to shield from reality, than a noncontributory pension accruing from 4% a year to 100%.