The Seesaw

The last 10 days have proven that the public is suffering from a grave illness: manic depression.

The last 10 days have proven that the public is suffering from a grave illness: manic depression. In the last week and a half it has gone from deep sadness to extremely emotional circumstances and back at a dizzying pace. Like every year, Holocaust Day was difficult and depressing. But three days went by, and the mood changed. We were in Prague, in the semifinals for the European basketball championship. From depression we jumped to a mania of enthusiasm. And when the victory came in the semifinals, we were so thrilled, we didn't know what to do with ourselves.

The basketball celebrations continued until Sunday, but then we were beaten by CSKA Moscow. Only 24 hours went by and it was Memorial Day, and the mood was difficult and sad. But the next day, once again, like some kind of clown who knows how to change expressions from one second to the next, at 8 P.M. we became the happiest people in the world, going out to celebrate Independence Day. Once again, mania.

Yesterday, Ehud Olmert's government was installed in office. Its critics filled dozens of newspaper pages. What wasn't said about it: that it is wasteful that six of the 25 ministers are unnecessary ministers without portfolio, that the ministers are unsuited to their portfolios, that the coalition agreements cost NIS 4 billion - and that the government won't last a full term. That's how it works in depression stage.

But two or three days passed, and the mania returned, about a successful new prime minister who managed to put together a government speedily, under difficult circumstances. His party, which finished the election campaign with 29 seats in the Knesset, rose to 36 seats because of the agreement for parliamentary unity with the Pensioners. It turns out it has a majority in the government for the convergence plan (Kadima, Pensioners and Labor) and a majority in the Knesset, because Meretz and the Arabs will replace Shas when that party betrays Olmert at the critical moment, the way it betrayed Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.

And Olmert also has an economic majority in the government for budgetary responsibility, a market economy and reforms. Kadima and the Pensioners together have 14 ministers, so they will be able to pass reforms over any objections from the 11 ministers of Labor and Shas.

It also turns out that the price paid to the coalition parties is not sky-high. True, the scary headlines spoke of an annual NIS 4 billion for the coalition agreements but a more precise calculation shows that this year the agreements will only cost a billion, because it is only for half a year. In 2007, the agreements won't cost more than NIS 2 billion, because some of the expenditures are one-time payments, and some are already in the budget and simply have to be "colored" to turn them into elements of the coalition agreements. Moreover, some of the expenditure is for worthy purposes, which reality anyway demanded, like increasing old-age benefits, encouraging people to get into the labor market by increasing the minimum wage, investing in vocational training, subsidizing transportation to work and day-care centers.

However, two mistakes were made during the negotiations. The first was increasing government expenditure by 1.7 percent, starting in 2007, even though the current law, which was inspired by Benjamin Netanyahu, set a 1 percent increase in expenditure as a target. The other mistake was the critical concession to Shas on the equalization of the children's allotments over the next three years.

There was harsh criticism of Olmert for unnecessarily forming a huge government. But now, when the large government is a fact, it must be said that, as always, we exaggerated with the shouting. The extra ministers don't cost that much, and it has already been proven that if enough jobs are handed out to influential people, it guarantees coalition stability. And if, ultimately, the convergence plan is executed, the price will have been worth it.

Israel also suffers from manic depression when it comes to macroeconomics. There is no other country that goes so speedily from deep crises to rapid growth. Only three years ago, the economy was on the brink of collapse, the state couldn't raise another dollar overseas and the head of the central bank was saying that a major bank could topple into bankruptcy. Now we have impressive growth, unemployment is dropping, and the state coffers have an unprecedented surplus.

That's what it is like when suffering from bipolar mood disorder. One day you are in a deep depression, and the next day jump for joy. One day you are harshly critical, and the next day full of praise. You go from deep crisis to rapid growth. When will we finally move into a normal situation of boring stability?