Populism Is Having a Ball

In a poll conducted by the newspaper with the biggest circulation in the country, the public likes the idea of working less. If someone were to suggest lengthening the rest days to include Mondays as well, it would win 100 percent agreement.

The next elections will probably be held in two years' time, but the battle for the heart of the voter is already heating up. Who will win? Silvan Shalom, Dalia Itzik, Shalom Simhon, or Shlomo Buchbut? Each one of them has wonderful ideas for how to improve our lives.

Shalom wants us to have "a real weekend". He is proposing that Sunday becomes a day of rest, and that we return to working half a day on Fridays, so that we will have two and a half free days every week. It is true that in the United States they work five full days, and that's also the case for most of the world's countries. But who is poor America as opposed to the rich power that is Israel? We can make do with only four and a half days.

Shalom contends that the overall number of hours will not drop because an extra half an hour of work will be added to every working day. But Shalom is well aware of the "law of diminishing marginal output," and therefore he knows that the output in the last half hour will be extremely low.

Similarly, it is clear that many of the workers will not remain at work for six full hours on a Friday, because "preparations must be made for the Sabbath." The result will be absences, cutting corners and evasions, so that Friday will become a work day that is neither effective nor productive and the total amount of production in the economy will decrease.

However, in a poll about the idea conducted by the newspaper with the biggest distribution in this country, Shalom's proposal was favored by an overwhelming majority (73 percent ). The public likes the idea of working less. If someone were to suggest lengthening the rest days to include Mondays as well, it would win 100 percent agreement.

Itzik, too, has proposals for making the citizens' lives better - or rather, for those of the female citizens.

This week, she succeeded in getting the Knesset to approve, in a preliminary reading, a draft law that would cancel raising the retirement age of women to 67. According to her proposal, which won wide support from all the parties - from Tzipi Hotovely to Zahava Gal-On - women will still be able to retire at the age of 62.

It is true that, on various occasions, Itzik, Hotovely and Gal-On have spoken about the importance of equality between women and men, but they are referring to equality of rights only. Not duties. From their point of view, let the women retire at the age of 62 and let the men go on working for another five years to pay for the pensions of the women. All of this is even more outrageous in view of the fact that women live four years longer than men, on average, and therefore they should actually retire at a later age than men.

Itzik, Hotovely and Gal-On are not concerned that this "amendment" in actual fact harms women, because employers will not find it worth their while to invest in promoting women to management positions, or to accept older women for jobs, because of their short work prospects. What is important to them is simply the image that they have supposedly done something for the good of women, and therefore women should be grateful to them when they go to the polling booths.

Shalom Simhon, the Industry, Trade and Labor Minister, is also looking for the public's love. As the person who is seen as the obvious representative of the agricultural lobby, he is vehemently opposed to lessening the high taxes that are imposed on imported milk products. Simhon knows, of course, that this is the only way it will be possible to lower the prices of cheese and yogurt on a permanent basis, but he wants to continue to give a treat to his traditional voting public, the farmers.

However, Simhon also wants to curry favor with the general public. That is why he is suggesting supervision over the prices. But all of us know that government supervision is good for the producers but bad for the consumers. First, it is very easy to circumvent such supervision. Secondly, were there such supervision on the price of cottage cheese today, its price would be NIS 6.30 per container (due to public pressure, its current price has dropped to only NIS 5.90 ).

It is also a fact that, when the "diaper war" broke out recently, Mega began importing disposable diapers from Turkey - a move which led to a drop in prices on the local market. Put simply: competition works, supervision does not.

And there are a great many more proposals in the Knesset to "make the people feel good," such as the proposal to lessen VAT on food products and apartments. Or the proposal calling for a decrease of the excise on gasoline. And Shlomo Buchbut, chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, has called on the prime minister "to cancel the VAT on water."

All of them are good. All of them want to lower taxes. All of them want us to work less. So just imagine what will happen when the date of the elections gets even closer.