Blue and White's grey economic platform

Amiram Barkat

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz's party abounds in promises, but is unclear on how to implement and pay for them.

Over the next two weeks, the heads of the Israel Resilience (Hosen Le'Yisrael) and Yesh Atid parties will be busy formulating a platform for their joint "Blue and White" list in the forthcoming Knesset election. Bridging the gaps between the two parties on social and economic policy is not expected to be especially difficult.

The promises scattered about by Israel Resilience leaders in the past few days appear in Yesh Atid's platform along with many more, while, despite critical statements on the civil service and other bodies, Yesh Atid's platform contains not a single proposal that might lead to ideological confrontation, for all the social-democratic background of Israel Resilience's Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel), and the economic liberalism of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

The toughest test of the new party will be implementation: so far, no representative of Blue and White has put forward any serious suggestion how even a fraction of the welter of promises can be financed without busting the budget framework.

The partners in Blue and White are not really comparable. Whereas Yesh Atid's platform is a document worthy of the name, presenting a comprehensive and up-to-date survey of the main branches of the Israeli economy, analysis of the problems and challenges, and proposals for possible solutions, all we have heard from Israel Resilience up to now is a few random statements, and two laconic paragraphs in party leader Benny Gantz's first election speech.

Former chief-of-staff Gantz talked about the cost of living, threatened to take action against monopolies, and promised to build two new hospitals and to take action to promote greater equality of opportunity in education. His associate Nissenkorn has spoken out in favor of linking old-age pensions to the minimum wage, which he would raise, reducing income inequality as measured by the Gini index, and strengthening medical services in outlying areas. This can of course be excused by the fact that the party is new, but on the other hand, in the last election, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon demonstrated better utilization of the formation period of his party before announcing the start of its campaign.

Over 200 pages of expensive promises

Yesh Atid's election platform is spread across more than 200 pages, almost entirely devoted to a social-economic agenda in 20 different areas, among them economy and society, governance, the periphery of the country, students, promoting women and various disadvantaged sections of the population, environmental protection, transport, energy, and so on.

Let's start from what there isn't - Yesh Atid's platform is empty of ideas on how to increase state revenues. The phrase raising state revenues appears just once. There is no mention of notions such as raising taxes or abolishing tax exemptions for pressure groups and privileged sectors. The term "cut" appears six times, but each time in the context of abolishing previous spending cuts.

Macro-economic concepts to do with increasing the size of the cake are also hardly mentioned: terms such as "growth" and "productivity" appear only a few times, a paucity that stands out in view of the fiscal cost of Yesh Atid's many promises.

Among these are additions to the budgets for the research universities and for youth movements, state-funded student loans for first and second degrees, recruitment of thousands of teachers and hundreds of police, purchase of traffic patrol cars, raising the number of judges, linkage of disability allowances to the minimum wage, an allowance to ensure a dignified life for every old person, and huge investment in infrastructure, such as constructing a bullet train railway along Israel's entire length. The only proposal in the Yesh Atid platform that might serve as a budget source for financing these plans is a reduction in the number of government ministers.

The Histadrut and political landmines

Another notable shortcoming in the platform is the gap between the critical analysis of fundamental problems in Israeli society and the tame and sometimes even empty solutions that Yesh Atid proposes. For example, on the subject of raising the retirement age for women, Yesh Atid points out that Israel is one of only a handful of countries in the OECD in which the retirement age for man and women is not the same, but its solution is the very toned-down proposal of the Knesset Finance Committee, a proposal that reflects the most left-wing voices in the Histadrut and that is considered unacceptable in the Ministry of Finance, which on these conditions preferred to withdraw the initiative and shelve it.

A further example: "The public sector in Israel is characterized by low efficiency, bureaucratic weakness and poor ability to execute, outmoded methods, organizational and individual stagnation, an absence of innovation and creativity, difficulty in forming cooperative arrangements, and to a large extent it operates anachronistically and ineffectively. The continued weakness of the public sector prevents us from responding appropriately to emerging trends in the global economy, from initiating and carrying out required changes and reforms, and from promoting national projects and initiatives needed for Israel to keep pace with the developed countries."

And what solutions does Yesh Atid propose to such substantial deficiencies in the public sector? "We shall work towards putting the public sector high among national priorities and improving it," the platform states. "A high-quality, effective public sector, operating professionally and orientated towards the public is a pressing need."

Labor relations is one area in which Yesh Atid does raise creative ideas for change, chiefly the flexisecurity model adopted in Denmark in the 1990s. This model features innovative concepts in the labor market, such as lifelong study. Here too, however, the drafting leaves the impression that Yesh Atid does not mean to insist on implementation of such creative ideas; it makes do with "an aspiration to develop a similar employment model, in cooperation with the Histadrut and the employers."

The word "Histadrut" appears in the platform three times, each time in the context of cooperation. So, for example, in further comment on the failures of the public sector, Lapid's party states that "there should be intense work with the Histadrut on the structure of existing arrangements and agreements so as to promote job flexibility, effective recruitment of high-quality manpower, and provision of up-to-date tools to management for proper and efficient management of employees."

Platforms are important; so is accuracy

Alongside reasonably cogent factual analysis, the platform also contains embarrassing errors of fact, such as the proposal to transfer the "Digital Israel" project to the "Chief Scientist Ministry", a ministry that does not exist in Israel. Another error, one that looks like a deliberate attempt to mislead, appears in the introduction to the platform, where it is stated that the current government's economic policy "has led to a widening of social and economic gaps, to a lower standard of living for the middle class, to a worsening of the situation of the weaker sections of the population, and to more widespread poverty."

In fact, according to the Israel Insurance Institute's 2017 Poverty Report, social gaps have narrowed, the standard of living of the middle class has risen, the situation of the weaker sections of the population has improved, and poverty has become less prevalent (although the severity of poverty among those classed as poor has deepened).

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 25, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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