Light Years Away From the Middle Ages

One of the easy ways of writing an essay is not to consider the facts and not to provide any quantitative data; facts are burdensome, and data can destroy even the nicest false presentation.

One of the easy ways of writing an essay is not to consider the facts and not to provide any quantitative data; facts are burdensome, and data can destroy even the nicest false presentation.

On October 15, Elia Leibowitz published such an essay on this page, (Economics, the handmaiden of politics, Haaretz, October 15) in which he compared the feudal regime in the Middle Ages to the economic system practiced today. He states (without bothering to bring even one statistic, in spite of the fact that he is a scientist by profession, an astronomer), that Israel at present has a neo-feudal regime that is the twin of the feudal regime in medieval Europe, and that the economic gap that exists here is identical to the gap that existed then between the nobility and the exploited masses.

The king at that time was free of any responsibility for the economic situation, the social welfare and the personal security of his people - and the same is true today, according to Leibowitz. The present king - the prime minister or the finance minister - are working so that "the regime will have no economic or social responsibility towards the citizens of the state."

The fact that the State of Israel spends 45 percent of the gross domestic product on education, health, welfare and security, most of which reaches the new serfs, makes no impression on Leibowitz. The fact that every year the National Insurance Institute allots NIS 14 billion for allowances is not mentioned either. Apparently in the 12th century the serfs received exactly the same thing.

They received complete health service at the expense of the baron, even if they had not paid a cent in taxes. They also received free education until high school, and paid a token tuition (relative to the costs) in the universities. They received child allowances, disability, old-age pensions, supplemental income (148,000 families in Israel receive supplemental income payments) and unemployment insurance (16,000 people receive unemployment insurance) - because according to Leibowitz the situation of the serfs was identical to their situation today.

And another statistic: The five lower deciles in Israel do not pay income tax. On the other hand, the three upper deciles pay 90 percent of all the income tax payments; in other words, the rich pay for all the above-mentioned services for the poor. That was true in the 12th century as well. As we know, the barons paid for a variety of social services for their serfs.

Leibowitz also attacks privatization, because that is the way in which "the government divests itself of responsibility for the welfare of its citizens." He apparently prefers to go back 15 years, to receive telephone services from the postal ministry, to wait seven years, along with 200,000 other people, for a telephone line, and to try to connect to the Internet with a black analog dial phone. Because according to him, it is better to receive these services from the government, than from the evil capitalists.

Leibowitz is certainly angry at Minister Zevulun Orlev, who privatized two homes for the disabled, and now there is a long line of disabled people who prefer to be accepted to these institutions, because they provide a better service, and at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

Leibowitz is also opposed to all the reforms recommended by the government, because they are leading us back to the "darkness of the Middle Ages," no less. Is he opposed to lowering taxes? To the fact that the government will train unemployed people with the Wisconsin Plan? Did he not want it to save the Histadrut pension funds? Does he not agree to turning the post office into a government corporation in order to improve the service? Why is he not interested in having the Haifa port and the Ashdod port compete with one another, so that service will improve and the prices will drop? And in general, in having all the large monopolies - the Israel Electric Corporation, the Airports Authority, the refineries and the banks - lose some of their power?

These reforms are what will change us from a cartel-based, old-fashioned and poor economy to a modern and competitive one, the only kind of economy that will be able to pay the workers a higher salary, because it will produce more. It is the opposition to reform that will cause us to regress, to the darkness of the Middle Ages.