The Bottom Line / Bloated on Chips and Gas

It should have been a serene meander of about an hour on the tranquil water, but the trip ended in tragedy: 20 died.

1. Overeating.

Two weeks ago 48 passengers went on a pleasure boat ride around Manhattan. It should have been a serene meander of about an hour on the tranquil water, but the trip ended in tragedy: 20 died.

During the boat trip, the passengers congregated on one side of the vessel in order to get a better look at the view, and the boat capsized. How could this be? Did the engineers who designed the boat not calculate the weight of the passenger load correctly?

Apparently the calculations were correct, but were made according to the 1960 regulations. Back then, it was determined that 48 passengers could board the boat, assuming an average weight per person of 150 pounds (or 68 kilos). But since then, the U.S. has undergone some serious fattening. Today, talking about an average weight of 68 kilos per adult is a joke. Just travel round the U.S. and you'll see the fat in front of you. All the TV and media blitz for healthy eating and keeping trim doesn't seem to help. The adults are fatter, the chips are bigger, the cola cup is enormous - and in the final weighing, one overweight adult comes in at more than 150 kilos.

Perhaps this masks a simple addiction to junk food, the nation is being brainwashed by the big commercial companies, or perhaps its a popular backlash against the beauty and thinness of old. In any case, fat has become a youngster's affliction. California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently issued an edict forbidding the sale of junk food - hamburgers and colas - in schools. And what about here?

In Israel, too, the youth are getting fatter. Junk food is also on sale in our schools in salamis and sodas. But does the Health Minister Dan Naveh or Education Minister Limor Livnat have the courage to issue an order forbidding junk food in schools? If in a country that worships the market economy a state governor can intervene, then why not here?

2. Overtaxing.

The rise in the price of gasoline drives Americans wild. They are simply incapable of paying $3 a gallon, even though compared to Europe and Israel, this is a bargain price. They still harp back to the days (only two years ago) when they paid half the price they're paying today.

In Israel, gasoline costs a lot, lot more. A liter of fuel today costs NIS 6.30, while in the U.S. this would cost only NIS 3.60 (there are 3.8 liters in a gallon). The reason for the difference is the heavy taxes that fuel suffers in Israel, much, much more than that levied on the American driver. So the proposal from the National Infrastructures Ministry to reduce tax on fuel is a reasonable one, despite the treasury's objection. The taxes on gasoline in Israel today constitute two-thirds of the price charged to the consumer.

But there is no room to lower VAT just on fuel, as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has suggested. There is a whiff of populism in that suggestion. First, why should there be differentiated levels of VAT in the economy, and secondly, if the government is going to lower taxes, then let it lower the duty on fuel and diesel. Duty on diesel was only recently raised, pushing up costs of production in the economy, making haulage services more expensive, raising the price of electricity and generally leading to widespread inflation.

So here is a fine opportunity for the finance minister to cut duty on all types of fuel. It should be a long-term policy, even when the price of gasoline comes down again, because the level of taxation on fuel in Israel is absurd. If we take into account the standard of living, taxation on fuel in Israel is among the highest in the world.