The tent protesters have achieved one thing so far—they’ve convinced me to read the financial pages.
I had a lot of fun at the happening on Saturday night. It was a real pleasure to participate in a demonstration attended by more than 50 people—the same people all the time. There was a great deal of energy and hope. But brass tacks policy? Not so much.
For a few months—since the beginning of the doctors’ strike—I’ve been complaining to anyone who will listen that I don’t see good policy analysis in Israel’s daily press. Everyone had the same response—read The Marker, Ha’aretz’s business and financial section, which up until now I removed from the newspaper each morning and placed in the recycling bag.
So I’ve been giving it a try. Each morning I read several articles in The Marker before going to the rest of the paper.
I’d say that it’s not quite as good as the policy analysis I get from Jonathan Chait and Jonathan Cohn, the two wonky bloggers at The New Republic. I still know a whole lot more about health policy in the U.S. than I do about health policy in Israel. I still haven’t run across a decent analysis of the doctors’ strike.
But Meirav Arlosoroff, The Marker’s editor, does offer food for thought most days. Today, for example, she offers a useful reminder that privatization, much maligned—with good cause—by the social democratic left and the current protestors, is not all bad. Some of the privatization that has taken place over the last quarter century—the privatization of phone service, for example—has lowered prices for consumers and offered much greater choice and better service. That doesn’t mean that all is hunky-dory, because phone services, while no longer a government monopoly, are now a privatized cartel. So we still pay higher rates than in most other Western countries. But who wants to go back to the days when you had to wait years to get a phone line and when your call disconnected if you dialed too fast?
But it’s hard to make good policy when you don’t have data. Arlosoroff writes, tellingly:
The problem is that over the years, Israel’s government has been pushed to privatize services because of its own dysfunction, but this dysfunction is so deep that it is difficult for the government even to supervise privatization. For one thing, it never established an orderly privatization policy (aims and goals ). Thus, there is no cumulative data about privatizations – of government companies in the past and government services in the present – and there is no orderly oversight or follow-up to determine whether privatization is good or bad.
These are the kinds of questions the protestors need to start to grapple with. It’s fun to bang a drum. It’s even important. But a drum is not an orchestra, and drumrolls are not a symphony.