The Israel Hayom Law has nothing to do with freedom of the press

The Knesset just passed a preliminary reading of חוק ישראל היום or the Israel Hayom Law, which puts an arbitrary minimum price on all newspapers. It is now illegal to hand out free newspapers in Israel. The reason? 45 Knesset members do not like Israel Hayom because it is very supportive of Netanyahu.

The people in Israel, myself included, are justifiably upset. I like it when I can take a newspaper for free, regardless of whether I like the newspaper or not. I do not like it when politicians tell me that if I take a newspaper for free, I am now a criminal, or party to a criminal act.

I am no fan of the Prime Minister. In fact, I am a big supporter of his biggest Likud rival, MK Moshe Feiglin, who is running against Netanyahu for Likud Chairmanship once again on January 6, and who excoriated the Knesset for passing this law. (For Hebrew speakers, video below.)

On top of that, Israel HaYom is generally very hostile to Feiglin, something I resent. But I have my own brain and I can decide which articles I like and which I don’t. If I see the paper I take one, because sometimes I just want to know the headlines, or what the other side thinks, or what the Kinneret’s level is today.

Or do a classic Israel Hayom crossword puzzle on page 62. (3 down, 7 letters: The worst person in Likud ever, and he probably smells bad, too. Answer: F-E-I-G-L-I-N. 5 across, 9 letters: The best Prime Minister in all of Jewish history, whose English is to die for. Answer: N-E-T-A-N-Y-A-H-U.

Or skip the crossword puzzle and build myself an Israel Hayom sailor hat.

The law is bad, infringes on liberty (as do all laws that expand the power of government over the lives of private citizens) and it’s making a lot of people angry, even those who do not like Israel Hayom, like me. I’m even thinking of starting a crowd funding drive to buy up all the issues of Israel Hayom for a week so they can be distributed freely just in spite of these politicians who dare tell us what we can hand out for free and what we can’t. Politicians that were elected to “fight against rising prices” and just passed a law criminalizing the handing out of free stuff.

Strangely though, I hear a lot of how this law is “anti democratic” and other such jargon, when first of all, it is completely democratic. The people elected the Knesset Members, the Knesset Members passed the law, preliminarily of course. That’s democracy, or one form of it.

Those who complain that the law is anti democratic should also complain of any price minimum, as that is all this law is – a price minimum on newspapers. There are price minima on a lot of things and few protest. There are price minima on labor, called minimum wage laws, which forbid the hiring of unskilled people whose productivity does not match the minimum wage, condemning them to a life of welfare and perpetual unemployment. Few complain about that.

There are price maxima everywhere, too. Cheese, eggs, meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, gasoline, all price controlled. All that does is create shortages, just as price minima create surpluses – surpluses of labor (unemployment) or surpluses of newspapers (unsold stock).

It’s all the same evil of people telling other people what they can trade and for how much. The “freedom of the press” only happens to be more culturally ingrained in the western psyche because of a historical accident involving the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn’t the freedom of prices be part of the first amendment as well? Just because this particular price control involving this particular newspaper is tangentially related to freedom of the press, people are up in arms about it.

Nobody is telling Israel Hayom what content to print. They are only telling it what to sell for. Is that an issue of freedom of the press? Not really. It’s an issue of freedom of pricing.

And pricing is not free. We are not allowed to trade with whoever we want however we want. Politicians must tell us with whom and for how much.

And that is the evil of The Israel Hayom Law. Not the obstruction of freedom of the press, but the obstruction of freedom of pricing, freedom of exchange, freedom of trade, freedom of economic activity.

About the Author
Rafi Farber is the publisher of The End Game Investor, a daily market commentary focusing on precious metals and monetary analysis in a post-Covid world.
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