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The Change that We Need / Adv. Ehud Peleg*

There’s a well-known joke:
A man was asked: “What’s worse, ignorance or apathy?”
He answered: “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

The various committees that were set up following last summer’s protests – the Trachtenberg Committee and the Kedmi Committee** – have unfortunately demonstrated that the governmental bodies responsible for protecting the public when it comes to the cost of living, have not bothered to determine whether there was any problem, while conducting themselves as though it weren’t important anyway.

These committees, and others like them, have submitted (or are about to submit) their findings, which will then be the subject of a long, tiresome debate over whether to accept or reject them.
The most important question that these committees should have examined will, unfortunately, be shunted aside, even though it carries with it the seeds for future economic failures.
This is a question that no committee to date has felt the need to address, even though it has been raised before them, time and again, in position papers submitted by the Consumer Council.

This vital question relates to the presence or the absence of fairness in our private and communal lives.
This question, which is fundamental to the commercial life of this country, also ties in with the principal problem that embitters the lives of Israel’s citizens and consumers, and which reflects aggressiveness, arrogance and a lack of care for the rights and interests of others.

The vast majority of the tens of thousands of complaints filed each year with the Consumer Council are not just complaints by consumers regarding infringements of their rights. They also reflect a sense that their dignity as human beings has been offended, that they have been exploited so that someone can make excessive profits, and that when they complained to the business concerned, they were met with an attempt to shirk any responsibility.

This is an issue whose negative effects are clearly felt in the economic sphere, but whose origins actually lie in another area entirely: the field of education and ethics.
It is difficult to expect businessmen who behave this way to conduct themselves differently, to stop trying to extract every last penny from their clients ,particularly when their economic or business management education has constantly stressed one supreme interest: maximizing profits above all else.

It is hard to demand that the economists who occupy offices in government departments and authorities look to the welfare of consumers, if their training dealt with the wonders of the market economy, and advocated a free market with an absence of any governmental intervention.
And let us not forget that both of these groups are the product of a State education system that has focused almost solely on academic achievements, without emphasizing sufficiently (if at all) the values of fairness, consideration, and social sensitivity.

Under these circumstances, the free market is transformed from being a means to reach a goal to being the goal itself, even though it then harms the true goal: a fair market for both businesses and consumers.

All of these economic theories and policies should not make us forget a fundamental fact: that their purpose is also the reason for the existence of human society: to improve the life of the person living in it.
Within this mix of theories, if the individual is forgotten – then it’s clear that something is seriously wrong.
The recent death of the late Moshe Silman*** , serves a painfull reminder of this fact.

What is needed today in the State of Israel is a fundamental change in the way businessmen, economists, and government officials are trained. It’s a conceptual change within the education system, one that will once again place human beings– as citizens and consumers – at the center of public life, and define the purposes of the various processes that manage and dictate life in this country, including business and political interests, in a way that is consistent with the welfare of the individual within society.

The advantage of organized society over primitive man living in the jungle, or over societies that conduct themselves as a human jungle in which might is right, has to be reflected in the way we conduct  our lives in a progressive welfare state. The key to this lies first and foremost in the education system, and in the values that it imparts to its graduates.

* The author is CEO of the Israel Consumer Council.

**  The Trachtenberg Committee was a commission appointed by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011 in order to examine and propose solutions to Israel's socioeconomic problems, following the housing protests in the summer of that year.
The Kedmi Committee was an inter-departmental committee charged with examining prices and competition in Israel's food and consumer goods market.
***Moshe Silman- Israeli activist, who died after setting himself on fire, at a social justice protest in Tel Aviv during the month of july 2012.

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The Israel Consumer Council is the largest consumer organization in Israel. It is a statutory, non-profit corporation which works to defend consumers and protect their rights, by handling complaints, seeking solutions to wrongs done to consumers, and through education, enforcement and deterrence, and promotion of consumer rights.