TLR 160 – The New Nasty

This issue is devoted to a topic that has increasingly occupied me over the last two years or more, since the social protest movement swept Israel during the summer of 2011. I call it ‘the New Nasty’, because its central feature is the overt antipathy displayed toward the group of big businessmen who are perceived as dominating the Israeli economy, as well as toward their coterie of senior managers, consultants, etc. These populist and anti-business sentiments emerged in the wake of the global crisis – not surprisingly and, in fairness, justifiably – but in 2011 they ‘went viral’ and have continued to gather momentum ever since.

The swing of the pendulum in terms of public sentiment, from being pro-business and regarding big businessmen as positive socio-economic phenomena, to adopting an attitude almost diametrically opposite, is the most important trend at work in Israeli business today. Of course, it is hardly a uniquely Israeli phenomenon – rather it is a local version of a global backlash against the excesses that led to, and were exposed by, the crisis of 2007-2009.

However, the Israeli version of this syndrome is in most respects, milder than its counterparts in Europe – and certainly than the upheavals that continue to wrack most of Israel’s neighbours. The very fact that in Israel the protest movement continues to operate within the existing political framework and has chalked up significant achievements along the way, sets it apart from its peer group in many other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.

This relative moderation may not be appreciated by the ‘tycoons’ and other prominent figures on the corporate scene who are the main targets of ‘the New Nasty’ mood – but it should be noted by foreign investors and their professional advisors. The distinction between reform and revolution is fundamental and it should be clear that in Israel, the agenda of the protest movement is one of reform.

Another distinguishing feature of the Israeli version of ‘New Nasty’ is that the negative attitudes are not being applied uniformly. The antipathy toward ‘tycoons’ and their companies does not, as a rule, extend to the technology sector and certainly does not apply to the entrepeneurs making lucrative exits from their start-up companies. The rationale for this distinction, I venture to suggest, has a solid basis in both economics and finance. This feature, too, is of great importance at both the macro and micro levels of the economy and should be duly noted by foreign investors, actual and potential.

No doubt many of you are regular readers of the Economist magazine and may therefore have read the article about Israel’s tycoons that appeared a few weeks ago (available online at http://www.economist.com/news/business/21586330-some-israels-leading-businessmen-are-suffering-backlash-turning-against-tycoons ). The parallels between the ideas discussed in this issue and those summarized in that article are, shall we say, not coincidental.

Contents

D: Corporate Affairs: The Growing Hostility to Big Business

a)    “The citizens are up”

b)    The nasty agenda

  1. 1.   Sentiment turns nasty
  1. 2.   Where is the money?
  1. 3.   ‘T’ain’t fair!
  1. 4.   Good on you!

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