The miracle of the loaves

Maybe standard bread prices didn't rise, but Itzik's record doesn't scream 'protector of the people'
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Industry and Trade Minister Dalia Itzik declared victory. Despite the climbing cost of flour, the price of government-supervised standard bread (white and dark) will not rise, so she could declare "This is very important good news for tens of thousands of Israeli families."

Prices of sliced bread, however, will go up by 13% and of challah - Shabbat loaves - consumed by the same thousands of families will rise by 8%. But that really doesn't matter. The main thing is that the standard loaf got Itzik her headlines.

Two months ago the flour mill owners asked the Trade and Industry Ministry to allow them to raise prices. Experts in the ministry concurred that flour prices had to rise, but Itzik vetoed the hike.

Had she agreed, she wouldn't have gotten her precious time on TV, radio and press coverage.

Actually, she had another option. Instead of stirring up a drama over bread, instead of creating a cartel of the millers, the minister could have opened up the market to competition.

Surely she knows there is a surplus of flour mills in Israel, and a surplus of bakeries. And once state supervision is removed, competition will begin and quality of bread will go up. Maybe we'd find that standard loaves can be wrapped: they needn't be sold loose in cartons piled by the corner store's door every morning, coughed on by every passerby.

Surely nowhere else in the developed world is bread is delivered unwrapped into the supermarkets, where the public can squeeze each loaf. The bread gets this disgraceful treatment because it is controlled by the state, and therefore shars the cheap government image.

And whence this pride in defending the poor? Hardly appropriate, as poverty is not measured by ability to buy only bread, but is based on several products and services. And here, her record doesn't scream "protector of the people".

Itzik set a levy on imports of yeast used by the baking industry (that includes bread). She also imposed a levy on oil imports. Last week she caused cement prices to go up by 15%, by effectively dividing up the market between Nesher and importers that toe the price line, thereby stopping any fall in prices. And not long ago Itzik imposed a "safety" levy on the import of plywood.

And when cement prices rise, so do apartment prices, and when plywood is more expensive so are furniture, closets, tables and kitchens.

But then, according to Itzik, the poor don't use oil, don't buy apartments or furniture. Those thousands of families don't use electricity or drink water, don't use public transport and don't go to the health maintenance organizations - all of whose prices have increased recently due to our government's successful management. But then the thousands of families won't be hurt by this latest price rise, because they live by bread alone.