Dear Finance Minister Designate Lapid,
I know you never dreamed of being Finance Minister, and you are no doubt fearful of taking on a job in which (regardless of how talented you are) it will be difficult to be both successful and popular. That being said, I have every confidence you will succeed. However, just to be safe, here are a few pieces of unsolicited advice:
1) Do not allow any of those with academic degrees in Economics intimidate you into thinking you do not know enough to make the right decisions. As someone who has an undergraduate degree in Economics (and even taught Economics in University for a short time), I can tell you that grasping economics requires solid common sense and a good understanding of people. Respect those with professional degrees in economics, but know that they do not have all the answers– and like all professionals, often disagree with one another. In any event, in this day and age, if you still fear your knowledge of Economics is lacking, you can use your iPad to take one of a wide variety of Economics courses offered by Harvard, MIT, and others to fill in any theoretical knowledge you may think you lack.
2) Make sure you bring a few trusted advisors with you who have had experience in the public sector. If you are planning to make significant changes in the “status quo”, you cannot rely on the professional staff in the Finance Ministry. I am sure they are all talented and intelligent people. However, just look around at the history of the ministry over the past decades, and you will see that most of the senior personnel used the ministry as a stepping stone into very lucrative jobs in the private sector. Very few of them will be willing to undermine their chances of landing worthwhile jobs in the future. Therefore, if you are planning to make major changes, make sure you have the outside advice you require to accomplish your goals.
3) Probably most important: Outline your criteria for success by things you can attain. I have no doubt that you will successfully move funds from certain areas to other areas. However, your most lasting contribution would be finally answering your initial campaign question: “Where is the money?” The Israeli budget is one of the most befuddling financial plans in the Western world. Work to bring about clarity to the budget process (so that we may all understand what we are spending money on). Then, once and for all, clear up and make public the total sum of all the different funds given to the Haredi sector. Include money spent on child allocations, housing, and education. We should also know how much money we receive in income from that sector. Please do the same assessment and disclosure regarding money awarded to the settlements.
You may not be able to end all of the special interest spending– especially with your “new best friend” being Naftali Bennet. Nonetheless, we deserve to know how much of our tax dollars are being spent on sectorial interests – whether the money comes from the Defense Budget or from the Ministry of Housing.
Talking about the Defense Budget, we have one of the most secretive defense budgets in the world. Why? When we had large conventional threats, this might have made sense– but today? Why should the public not know what the different elements in the defense budge cost? We understand that part of the defense budget will always have to remain secret, (with only a select set of Knesset members knowing the details). However, the rest of the defense budget should be open to public scrutiny. As Minister of Finance you should be able to make that happen. In addition, it’s also time to end the yearly practice of “Hok Hasederim”, where large sums of money are allocated outside the normal budget process. The people have every right to know where the money actually goes– not just where it is initially allocated. That was your main campaign promise. Now you can really keep it.
Of course transparency is a means and not an end. Once you bring about transparency in our system we will have to learn to make the hard decisions correctly. You must openly discuss with the public what the proper rational decisions need to be given our current circumstances. When you make hard decisions, explain to the public why these decisions are best for all of us.
4) Finally, there is the issue that caused the protests to begin two years ago. While changing government priorities can help solve some of the underlying problems, it cannot resolve the core of the problem– which comes down to the fact that, in many cases, the cost of living in Israel is significantly higher than in the United States– while the median income in Israel is about half that of our American counterparts.
Why does milk cost twice as much in Israel than in the United States? Why are vegetables more expensive in Shuk HaCarmel than they are off-season in a supermarket in New York? These are not problems that can be solved in a day. However, if you allocate part of your week–every week– to making progress in these areas, the public will appreciate your efforts and reward you and your party in the next election. While no one expects you to solve all of the problems of the Israeli middle-class at once (or even in four years), if you make progress at lowering prices, and at the same time once and for all, show of us “Where the money is”, you will have contributed greatly to our collective future.
Today you are the most popular politician in Israel. Use that popularity to bring about true change. We have waited too long for that change to begin. Good Luck!