Conservatives convene to discuss vision for Israel’s economy
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Conservatives convene to discuss vision for Israel’s economy

Israel can learn from a New Zealand minister who drastically downsized government workers under his watch, say conference organizers

An Israel Electric Corporation employee working on an electric line. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
An Israel Electric Corporation employee working on an electric line. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

For years, critics of the Israeli economy have railed against the what they see as the excesses of the labor unions, which are able to shut down transport at the country’s main international airport for hours or stop the unloading of goods at the country’s ports for weeks with seeming impunity.

It doesn’t have to be this way, according to Natasha Srdoc, who along with her husband Joel Anand Samy is bringing dozens of conservative thinkers and influencers from the United States and elsewhere to Israel for the first-ever Jerusalem Leaders Summit – Public Policy Summit Event.

The event, sponsored by Srdoc and Samy’s International Leaders Summit, will be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Jerusalem.

“Israel can take an example from Maurice McTigue, who significantly reduced the number of public employees in New Zealand, eliminating entire government departments, and pushing through laws for a balanced budget,” said Srdoc. “As a result, New Zealand’s economy grew by over 7% for more than a decade, and it is among the top scorers in the index of economic freedom each year.”

It’s a conservative message – both political and fiscal – that Israelis need to hear, say Srdoc and Samy. McTigue, a New Zealand minister in several economy-related government offices in the country during the 1980s and 90s (he was minister of Employment, minister of State Owned Enterprises, minister of Railways, minister of Works and Development, minister of Labor and minister of Immigration) is remembered by Kiwis as the man who restored sense to an economy that was, according to him, over-regulated and underperforming. He reduced the size of government, slashing taxes and opening up the economy for competition in many areas – an economy that is far smaller than Israel’s (New Zealand has about 5 million residents to Israel’s 8 million).

McTigue will be attending and speaking at the event this week in Jerusalem, joining about 200 other top conservative thinkers and activists. Among the star-studded list of speakers: Dr. Jerry Johnson, president, National Religious Broadcasters; Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council; UK European Parliament representatives Paul Nuttal and Roger Helmer; Becky Norton Dunlop (vice president of the Heritage Foundation and former director of the White House cabinet under Ronald Reagan); and many others. Israeli speakers will include Jon Medved, co-founder/CEO, OurCrowd; Avi Dichter, Knesset member, former minister of Internal Security and former Shin Bet director; and Major General (Ret.) Gadi Shamni, among others.

Natasha Srdoc (L) and Joel Anand Samy (Courtesy)
Natasha Srdoc (L) and Joel Anand Samy (Courtesy)

Srdoc says there’s very good reason for holding a conference like this in Israel. “Our common civilization based on the foundation of the rule of law, liberty and economic freedom which has contributed to the security and prosperity of societies is facing unprecedented challenges and threats. It’s important for us to recognize that, and even more important to communicate to Americans and others what Israel stands for – the rule of law, liberty and democracy.”

In a sense, said Samy, it’s also a “shot in the arm” for long-suffering Israelis. “Let’s face it – radical Islam is the enemy of democracy, and thus the enemy of Israel, the US, Europe, and the rest of the Western countries around the world that celebrate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We want Israelis to know that we stand with them.”

Although Samy, Srdoc, and others at the event may have some ideas about how Israel should handle its political imbroglio, “it wouldn’t be right for us to interfere in the internal matters of Israel. How Israelis handle the conflict is up to them – we’re here to support the core values that all of us in the Judeo-Christian world hold dear.”

While politics and security are likely to be off-limits, a shocker like the Israel Electric Corporation’s by-the-book slowdown during last week’s storm and subsequent flooding and blackouts in some towns is the kind of thing the conference will definitely be discussing. “We’re familiar with the arguments that Israel is a small economy, and that it is hard to implement real competition, but as an economist I can tell you that there are plenty of good examples of small economies that overcame a lot more government regulation and even corruption to reform themselves,” said Srdoc.

Like New Zealand.

Among the topics McTigue will discuss, said Srdoc, is his radical restructuring activity in the 1984 reform government. In a recent speech, McTigue described his approach. “When we started this process with the Department of Transportation, it had 5,600 employees. When we finished, it had 53. When we started with the Forest Service, it had 17,000 employees. When we finished, it had 17. When we applied it to the Ministry of Works, it had 28,000 employees. I used to be minister of Works, and ended up being the only employee. In the latter case, most of what the department did was construction and engineering, and there are plenty of people who can do that without government involvement.

“And if you say to me, ‘But you killed all those jobs!’ – well, that’s just not true,” continued McTeague. “The government stopped employing people in those jobs, but the need for the jobs didn’t disappear. I visited some of the forestry workers some months after they’d lost their government jobs, and they were quite happy. They told me that they were now earning about three times what they used to earn – on top of which, they were surprised to learn that they could do about 60 percent more than they used to! The same lesson applies to the other jobs I mentioned.”

It’s a lesson that could apply anywhere – in Israel as well, said Srdoc and Samy. “Amid the challenges which citizens face in difficult places around the world, and the threats within Europe, India, Israel and the United States, we will highlight the correlation between the rule of law, protection of property rights, liberty, innovation and technology, to job creation, security, trade, and economic growth as well as threats facing Western democracies. Israel is a beacon for these principles in a troubled part of the world,” they added. “That’s why we’re here.”

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