The Trendy Fight Against Market Concentration

The fight against market concentration is the hottest trend of the season - putting an end to the likelihood that something might actually change.

The National Union of Israeli Students announced a political cartoon competition on Friday offering a NIS 2,000 prize for the best cartoon on market concentration. That in itself is worthy of caricature: An organization that concentrates solely on fighting for lower tuition is embarking on a campaign against market concentration.

Tel Aviv’s Lodzia building
Yuval Tebol

This move suggests that it is possible to finally declare the fight against concentration the hottest trend of the season - a trend entrenched in the establishment and well within the national consensus - and thus put an end to the likelihood that something might actually change.

That's how it is in Israel: When there is genuine criticism, important criticism that has to do with the essence of our lives and the fundamental meaning of our existence as individuals and as a state - and when, in response to the criticism, actions are taken that threaten those in power - the rhetoric becomes pervasive, the various institutions adopt the critical language, and it becomes possible to do nothing, leaving the situation unchanged.

Former MK Tamar Gozansky was, to the best of my recollection, one of the first in Israel to speak out about the problematic nature of the concentration of capital, and that was more than a decade ago. Since then, the subject has been largely the province of research institutions and social welfare organizations.

But economic concentration has become a trendy subject in the past year, following Bank of Israel research into the matter, the generous debt conditions for tycoons like Lev Leviev, Miki Rosenthal's documentary "The Shakshuka System" and coverage in TheMarker. The Knesset Finance Committee has called for the establishment of an inquiry committee on the subject, MKs are proposing legislation, the media is full of fighting words (both pro and con ), and the prime minister has come to realize that it is worth paying attention to the issue and is considering establishing a committee to study it (the crucial deliberations are on September 15, so wait and see ).

Such a step seems to show yet again that the best way to bury a problem is to appoint a committee, something the proponents of market concentration have already noted. But if that's not enough, one can be convinced by the gap between the prime minister's statements on the problematic nature of market concentration and the actions he has taken. He is still fighting to privatize the Israel Electric Corporation and the ports, and most recently he tried to undermine discussions on how much money the state will get from any gas discovered in offshore drilling. He is also continuing to weaken the Israel Broadcasting Authority instead of letting it compete with privately owned media outlets. And the list goes on.

The truth is that all proposals for some form of regulation are just talk, since belief in the free market and in privatization isn't enough to head off the raging bull of market concentration. After all, capitalists don't recognize that, in practice, property rights are reserved for those who already have a lot of assets, enabling them to purchase more and more assets - meaning that the property rights of the very few trample the property rights of the majority. Those rights also trample the right of the majority to form unions, the right to social welfare benefits, and essentially the right to employment, since we all work for those few. Even if we insist on being independent, there is a good chance that their property rights will enable them to either buy us out or wipe us out.

Whether you're talking about market concentration, the economic octopus or the pyramid structure of some of the country's most dominant companies, it's an intrinsic part of capitalism. That's because at heart, capitalism isn't about competition but about the right of the powerful to accumulate more and more power and to decide on their own what they will give to the weak.

This is the ideology of the Israeli government today, especially of the man who heads it. So pick up some of the buzzwords relating to market concentration, since a great deal more will be said about it - but nothing will be done to stop it.