Not the Man of the Year

This Tuesday, the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry will hold a seminar on price labeling. Ostensibly, this is an open discussion about different ways to indicate prices. But in reality, it is yet another attempt to liquidate Israel's greatest consumer and economic achievement ever: the law requiring price tags on every single product.

The large food manufacturers, such as Dan Propper (who, of course, was invited to lecture at the seminar), and the major supermarket chains can see every day how Israelis have turned into smarter shoppers - people who compare prices, are willing to travel outside the city to obtain better deals, switch brands, and refuse to keep buying if the price rises. And this hurts them. In their pockets.

So instead of fighting for the customer's heart directly, they reached the conclusion it would be easier to repeal the law, and go back to the good old days in which no one knew how much 9 percent cheese, a bottle of beer, or a package of pasta really cost.

Ah, those good old days, when we filled our shopping carts in total ignorance. The price was on the shelf, and when we reached the checkout counter, we did not know whether the cashier was actually entering the price we saw earlier. Later, at home, we could not check anything, nor could we compare a given product with a competing product by another manufacturer, or the same product at a different store - because the price remained at the supermarket, on the shelf.

How Propper and his colleagues long for those good old days, in which we bought strictly on the basis of television advertisements, and large manufacturers could raise prices every Monday and Thursday. That was one of the reasons for the 450 percent inflation and severe socioeconomic crisis of the 1980s.

The manufacturers and marketers tried to scare us by saying that dairy products would spoil during the time it took to stick the price tags on, and that the labeling itself would cost so much that prices would rise and we, poor things (they're only thinking of us), would suffer. But, devil take it, nothing spoiled. And from the day the price labeling law went into effect, July 23, 1998, prices have only dropped, while inflation has stabilized at low, Western levels - a huge economic and social achievement.

Then-industry minister Natan Sharansky was the person who pushed for enactment of the labeling law, and since then, every July, we have celebrated "Consumer Day." But for the manufacturers and the supermarkets, this is a day of mourning - and ever since that day, they have been trying to return us to the old shelf system in order to earn more money at the customer's expense.

Every new industry minister is treated to a campaign of persuasion by the manufacturers and the supermarkets, but until now, each minister has studied the matter and refused. This year, however, they finally found an attentive ear. They discovered a minister who loves them and hates the customer, a minister with a soft spot in his heart for the tycoons, and he wants to remove the price tags from the products and put them back on the shelf. And for this intention - damaging the economy, competition, the inflation rate, the weak, the poor and all consumers - we hereby grant him the title "Not the Man of the Year."