If Only the Israelis Were as Frugal as the Swiss

The Swiss won't vote yes in their referendum over a hefty monthly stipend for everyone, something Israeli officials and legislators would jump at.

A train emerges after crossing the world's longest and deepest rail tunnel, near Erstfeld, Switzerland, June 1, 2016.
Reuters / Arnd Wiegmann

In Israel, the answer would be unequivocal: Yes, we want $2,500 a month without having to work or sweat.

In Switzerland, it’s not so clear. This Sunday, the Swiss will vote in a referendum to decide whether every citizen will receive a monthly stipend of $2,500 regardless of his economic situation, regardless of whether he’s working and earning money or unemployed and impoverished.

The very fact that the referendum is taking place shows that even the Swiss can go crazy. The tidings of populism have reached them, too. The difference is that over there, the government opposes the idea, whereas here, such a proposal would win plaudits from ministers and Knesset members whose middle name is populism.

The Swiss government is currently waging a major public relations campaign against the proposal. The campaign explains that the budgetary outlays for such a step would be enormous, which would lead to higher taxes and harm the economy.

Moreover, the monthly payment would replace all other government allowances, including unemployment compensation. This means it would hurt the poor and the weak, who would receive less than they get today.

If I were betting, I’d wager that most Swiss citizens will reject this crazy idea. My confidence stems from past experience with the Swiss. About three years ago they held a similar referendum and were asked whether their annual vacation should be lengthened to six weeks from four – and voted against it.

They, unlike the Greeks, Spanish, Italians, French and Israelis, understood that an extra two weeks of vacation means a rise in production costs, a decline in output, lower exports and weaker growth.

Swiss Defense Minister Guy Parmelin, right, and Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon shaking hands during an official visit in Bern, Switzerland, February 11, 2016.
AP

Our own government is currently discussing a similar proposal to reduce the number of work days. Under this plan, the first Sunday of every month would be a day off. We would therefore receive an extra 12 days off each year, basically two weeks.

In Switzerland, the finance minister would be shocked by this proposal and torpedo it. Here, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon supports it. After all, he’s one of the “good guys.” Does he know that in Switzerland people work 50 hours a week, compared with 43 in Israel?

There are other differences between us and the Swiss. In 2009, due to the global financial crisis, UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, posted a loss. The bank’s chairman, Marcel Ospel, announced in response that he would waive 90 percent (!) of his salary package. Could that ever happen here?

Absolutely not. Israel differs from Switzerland on both taking responsibility and every other economic issue.

Take privatization, which is in the news due to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s justified attempt to privatize the road tests for receiving a driver’s license, since the current system provides terrible service. The road testers’ response was a long strike, leaving of 60,000 teens awaiting their tests.

A week ago, a labor court intervened and halted the privatization process – an unnecessary intervention. In response, the testers promised to work overtime to shorten the enormous backlog created by the strike, but it turns out that most of them aren’t. Moreover, 12 road testers – 10 percent of the total – are now going to Greece as part of a delegation of state employees, which proves how justified Katz’s attempt to privatize this rotten system was.

In Switzerland, most government services are privatized. The government has only seven ministers, a small budget and low taxes. The Swiss understand that this is more efficient and enables a higher standard of living, lower unemployment and a smaller number of people under the poverty line.

They won’t destroy all these achievements by caving in to populism. Therefore, there’s no chance they’ll vote for $2,500 a month per person on Sunday. It won’t happen.