1. Finance Minister Silvan Shalom's
speech at the Israel Democracy Institute's annual economics "Caesarea conference" last Thursday gave rise to a thought: he's right. Kudos to the finance minister, who's come to his senses in the last month but why the hell couldn't he have said all that at last year's economic conference, before taking on the job as finance minister?
Why did we have to reach the brink of financial crisis for the foreign to declare that the government has to reduce its spending, and deficit, in order to restore growth? Why did we have to watch a substantial chunk of our savings and investments disintegrate before our finance minister would announce that financial stability is paramount?
Why did we have to spend a year watching bonds collapse, the shekel shrink like a sandcastle at the sea and unemployment soar before our finance minister and our economic leaders would abandon the mantra of creating growth by inflating the deficit? Why did we have to suffer a year of empty sloganeering before our economic helmsmen would reach the consensus that only reducing the government's segment of the economy, and aiming for international macro-economic standards, can extract Israel from the mud of recession?
Why did we have to go through a year of stupid interest rates wars for our finance minister to officially announce that achieving economic stability is a primary budget goal, at almost any price?
Why did we have to spend the year in battles over the Bank of Israel law? We could have abandoned the sterile argument over the need to "supervise" the central bank and devoted our attention to something that really matters as Finance Minister Silvan Shalom did in his speech last week, such as reforming the defense budget, which gulps down 20% of the national budget, at the expense of every other government activity.
Why did we have to swallow ludicrously unreal growth and deficit targets all year, instead of sitting down to a single, feasible target like the one Shalom presented for 2003?
We all know why: Because in Israel nothing gets handled, no truth gets bluntly told, no reality is stared at in the face, no step is ever taken - until crisis erupts. All we can hope is that the crisis that almost boiled over last month was big and scary enough for our finance minister to keep his promises, and for the prime minister to do his utmost to make them happen.
2. Eli Hurvitz,
the former chairman of Teva Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq:TEVA), was one of the conference stars. As usual his analysis was sober, serious and even honest.
But the real reason Hurvitz's speech stood out like a sore thumb, was that at Caesarea 2002
for the first time since these conferences started to convene, a decade ago -
the presence of businessmen was hardly felt.
For good reason, too: most of Israel's businessmen are skulking around licking their wounds and trying not to tot up their losses. Many are reeling under massive loans or liquidity crises. They are trying to keep a low profile, not attract media attention at a conference taking place in the limelight. They dont want to annoy their bankers, either.
The only ones who can stand tall and talk loud are people like Aniram Sivan, the former management board chairman of Bank Hapoalim, or Eli Hurvitz, who led the only megacorporation for whom 2001 was just another record year. We can only hope that in 2003, not only the politicians and the governors come back to Caesarea, but the businessmen too.
3. Jacob Frenkel
blossomed anew, just two months after taking a public trouncing from the State Comptroller over his recompense when serving as the governor of the Bank of Israel. There he stood at the Caesarea dais, sharing his views and advising our economic leaders to "shake off their gloom".
Well, we thought about the words of wisdom imparted by Frenkel, whose professional skills we must admit we admire, and whose views we always find interesting and we concluded, the man's right.
Whence the gloom that descended like a fog over the last year? Cease and desist!
Instead of wailing about terrorism, personal insecurity when strolling the streets, economic deterioration, joblessness, instead of bemoaning the collapse of small businesses and indulging in black scenarios for next year one must adopt Frenkelism, an attitude of sunny optimism!
All you have to do is this: instead of wallowing in depression, get a top job at an international investment bank, vary the monotony with a few odd jobs like chairing a major Israeli public company (any will do) and serving as director on the odd board. Make sure you make at least a million a year (dollars, that is).
Spend at least 20 days a year in London and New York, clinking glasses at hopeful presentations and happy receptions, and make absolutely sure to fly only first class, to drink a lot of water, and to restrict your visits to Israel to the weekends.
Oh, and while in Israel, restrict your meetings to the prime minister and economic leaders. A cocktail here and there is okay, as is receiving awards. And, this is the really important part, don't stop smiling!