Friday, July 29, 2011

An Open Letter to a Tent Protester

An Open Letter to a Tent Protester

Dear S:

Thank you for your note clarifying the reasons for your
participating in the tent protests in Tel Aviv and for clarifying your
demands for "affordable housing alternatives."

I must say that I was a little unclear as to why you think there
do not exist "affordable housing alternatives" in Israel and why you
think it is the responsibility of the government to provide them for

First, you have made it clear that while you are interested in
finding affordable housing in Northern Tel Aviv, you would also be
willing to consider living in a two- or three-bedroom unit in Ramat
Aviv, Ramat Gan, and – if nothing else can be found – in Givatayim.

Second, you have explained to me that since your current
household take-home income is $2500 per month, affordable housing for
you (if purchased) should be a housing unit costing at the very most
$125,000 (or about 420,000 NIS), which would be 50 times your monthly
take-home income. In other words, in theory if you worked 50 months
and spent nothing at all, you could save up this amount for a housing
unit, which you regard as "affordable."

Let me point out to you that there is no problem at all for you to
obtain affordable housing in Northern Tel Aviv. And to do so you do
not need the approval of Bibi Netanyahu, the government of Israel, the
Minister of Housing, the capitalist class or even business professors.
There are tens of thousands of privately-owned housing units in
Northern Tel Aviv and in the other areas where you would like to live.
These are owned by private individuals, not the government. All you
need to do is find one single existing owner of a unit you would like
to buy and persuade him or her to sell it to you for 420,000 NIS.

If you can negotiate such a transaction, you do not need ANYONE
else to approve of it. It does not matter if Bibi Netanyahu approves
or disapproves. You are not dependent at all on approval from any
"capitalists." After all, it is unlikely that the seller with whom
you will engage in the transaction is even a capitalist at all, other
than perhaps in the sense of owning some capital in a Provident Funds
(Kupot Gemel) or a pension fund. You would not need approval from
anyone else.

Except of course from the seller.

As long as the seller is willing to sell you the property at the
affordable price you offer, nothing at all stands in your way. You
will have found affordable housing in the areas where you want to
live. And all you need is that one single cooperative seller, out of
a total population of tens of thousands of property owners. You
certainly need not persuade ME of ANTHING! After all, I own no
property in Tel Aviv.

I concede of course that you could run up against one minor
difficulty. And that is that the owner of the property you would like
to buy might prefer to sell it to someone else for three or four or
five times the amount you are willing to offer him. Of course, no one
is stopping you from trying to persuade him to sell it to you for YOUR
affordable price, and if you are successful in persuading him, I am
the first who will send you a housewarming gift!

And to tell you the truth, if you actually found someone willing
to sell you a 3 bedroom flat in Northern Tel Aviv at your affordable
price, I myself would be tempted to offer the seller several times
more than that to buy the same unit in your place. But in
consideration for yourself and you wife, I will sit out this round of
bidding and not interfere.

Now it is of course conceivable that you will discover that none
of those private property owners of housing units in Northern Tel Aviv
and in the other areas where you are searching is willing to sign a
deal with you for your affordable price. It is not because Bibi told
them not to sign with you and it is not because the capitalist class
ordered them not to. It is because the sellers prefer to get a higher
price to getting a lower price.

I understand that the demand by you and your comrades-at-tents is
that if you cannot find affordable housing in the areas you are
searching at the prices you are willing to offer, then the government
of Israel should either hand to you the difference between the asking
price and your affordable price, or arrange for other machinations
that end up achieving the same result. Where you can pay your
affordable price to get a housing unit whose asking price is much

Now there are some complications with your idea of having the
government of Israel hand you free money for purchasing housing. One
problem is that the money has to come from someplace else or someone
else. Yes, I realize your favorite solution is to "soak the rich"
and raise the taxes on "the rich" so that there will be enough money
for handouts to you. But there are some problems with that idea as

The first difficulty is that I think you will find that "soak the
rich" taxes generate far, far less tax revenue than you think they do.
But even if they could generate as much as in your socialist fantasy,
what makes you think that the Israeli electorate wants those funds
given to YOU?? After all, those funds have LOTS of uses, and there
are lots of people who would like to have those funds granted to THEM!

In a vote by the public, either a direct vote via ballot
initiative (you know, that idea the law professors in Israel keep
insisting is anti-democratic) or by the elected representatives of the
people, what makes you think it is the will of the people that any
extra funds taken from the rich or diverted from other government
budgets should be awarded to YOU? Is it because you demand
affordable housing in greater Tel Aviv while sleeping in a tent?

Let me drum this point home a bit more. You and your wife are
graduate students. The vast majority of Israelis never attend
university. Those who attend university and get only a BA earn far
more money on average than those who do not attend college. That
means first of all that the Israelis who do NOT attend college and
earn far less on average than those who DO attend college already paid
for 70% or so of the costs of your college education. Once you earned
your BA you joined the portion of the population that out-earns on
average those who do not attend college. And now you want to persuade
that same majority of Israelis who do not attend college that the very
best use of fiscal resources is to hand them over to you so you can
buy housing in greater Tel Aviv while only spending an amount you have
defined as affordable.

I gotta tell you the truth. In a ballot initiative, if the
general public were asked to approve of your plan, it would not stand
a chance.

I do not see much difference if the affordable housing you want in
Tel Aviv is rental housing and not purchased housing. Once again, no
one is stopping you from convincing any of those many thousands of
owners of private housing units to lease them to you at rents you
regard as affordable. I cannot make them agree to do so, and neither
can Bibi or anyone else. If you are successful and persuade one to
rent to you at what you regard as an affordable rent, I will send you
a housewarming gift.

There is one other problem with your idea of raising taxes to
generate resources that can be handed to you. Among those who would
be taxed are many Israeli families who purchased housing in the past,
never at affordable prices, and who did so by working hard and long
and saving what they earned. You are welcome to try to persuade them
to vote for representatives who will tax themselves in order to hand
over resources to you so that you can buy affordable housing. But I
would not bet my own salary on your being successful in that campaign
of persuasion.

Finally, you and your tent comrades are pretending that you are not
simply out for handouts, but are generally "socially concerned" with
poverty and hardship in Israel and that is why you demand major
reforms in policy from the government. You are crusaders for social
justice. You kind of lost me there.

If you are seriously concerned with hardship and poverty and
inequality in Israel, why is the main proposal you are marketing that
the government provide YOU with housing you say you can afford. You
have a BA already and are working on a second degree. Only a tiny
portion of Israelis get second degrees. You could not find anyone
more in need of handouts than YOU?

Second, why do you need Bibi and the government to change policy as
a means to assist the needy and those in hardship? Why wait for Bibi?
Who is stopping YOU from stepping up and helping the needy and those
in hardship right now? Who is stopping YOU from engaging in Tzedaka?
Since when is the only legitimate form of Tzedaka the nationalized
form, where the government takes away people's wealth to help those in
hardship? Why not some privatized Tzedaka?

Oh, and since mankind has yet to come up with a set of policies
that eliminate poverty and hardship and inequality, and no society on
earth has managed to do that (although quite a few have succeeded in
making poverty and hardship much WORSE), I am sure we would all be
grateful to hear about the magical set of plans YOU have that will
accomplish this mission for the first time in human history.

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