Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Netanyahu To End Poverty? 

Haaretz reports on some economic pronouncements from Binyamin Netanyahu as campaigning for the upcoming Israeli general elections heats up:

'I vow to put an end to poverty within three years,' Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday at a press conference in which he presented the Likud's economic platform.
I can't explain why, except to blame a faulty humor gene, but this opening line somehow reminds me of a classic Steve Martin routine that my younger and lefter self found uproariously funny back in the early eighties, right before the world was destroyed by a nuclear nincompoop:

"And I believe," said Martin in a deeply serious voice, standing alone on stage and professing his most profound beliefs, "that Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was -- an Arctic region, covered with ice."
Oh man that was funny. It still is, even though I now realize how shallow the idea behind it was.

Similarly, I actually hope that, win or lose, Netanyahu's more serious economic ideas will be implemented somehow, even though in this campaign speech he's just setting us up for a disappointingly shallow punchline:

Until now we have gone through a difficult process, but I know that we saved the economy and we will pull people out of poverty by a policy that increases the pie and then we will distribute it in a more rational way. If we only deal with distributing the pie, all we will be left with is crumbs," Netanyahu said.
As good a speaker as Netanyahu is, I have to ask: does anyone in Israel eat pie? I'm guessing this strikes Israeli ears about as effectively as telling Americans that we're going to find a better way to slice the schwarma -- they might assume it refers to regulation of the mohel industry. The only pie I know of in Israel is pizza, which doesn't really have so many crumbs and can't easily be increased fast enough since it is usually distributed in only thirty minutes or less.

The bigger -- almost serious -- question I have about this blatant campaign pandering is this: IS HE SERIOUS? DOES HE THINK WE'RE IDIOTS?

Point number 1: Netanyahu allegedly believes in free, efficient markets.

Point number 2: He is bragging he will end poverty.

Point number 3: The poverty line is set to half the mean income or some similar moving target that only goes up as the poor make more money. If we double everyone's income, it has no effect on poverty. An actual END to this poverty happens only in the vicinity of the socialist singularity when enough capital is confiscated from the rich so that everyone in the economy has an income falling more or less in the same narrow band.

His "increase the pie" stuff sounds good, but if he really intends to focus on "end of poverty," "distribute the bigger pie" stuff, he's not running on the platform I thought he was.

Assuming, however, that he's just saying whatever will get him elected in a very crass and insincere way, then I'd love to vote for him, heartless and rapacious capitalist that I am. Not that I'm pro-poverty. But as long as poverty is defined as half the median income, I'd prefer to have lots of poor people who own computers, cars, cell phones and refrigerators, than have a poverty-free society in which everyone scavenges equally for wild roots and berries and lives in identical dirt-floored huts.

UPDATE: more detail about why poverty statistics are stupid in the next post.

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