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Austerity in Israel
Established in 1948, the young state of Israel found itself, shortly after its foundation, lacking in both food and foreign currency. In three and half years, the Jewish population of Israel has doubled, inflated by nearly 700,000 immigrants. At the same time, the Arab villages, once major suppliers of food to the Jews of the land, were mostly abandoned. In its hour of plight, the government of Israel decided that in order to ensure ample rations for all Israeli citizens, it must assume control of resources, which it will distribute equally. Aside from the provision of food, austerity was also required because the state was lacking in foreign currency reserves. Export revenues covered less that a third of the cost of imports, and less than a half of the consequent deficit was covered by Jewish loans — magbiut (מגביות). Most financing was obtained from foreign banks and gas companies, which, as 1951 drew to an end, refused to enlarge the credit given to the state. In order to supervise austerity, the prime minister of the time, David Ben-Gurion, ordered the establishment of the Ministry of Rationing (משרד האספקה והקיצוב), headed by Dov Yosef.
Life under austerity
At first this rationing was set for staple foods alone — oil, sugar and margarine, for instance — but it was later expanded to furniture and footwear. Each month, each citizen would get food coupons worth 6 Israeli pounds (a currency no longer in use), and each family was alloted a given number of foodstuff. The diet chosen, fashioned after that used in the United Kingdom during World War II, allowed 2,800 calories a day for Israeli citizens, with additions available for children, the elderly, and pregnant women. The enforcement of austerity required the establishment of a bureaucracy of quite some proportions, which nonetheless proved inefficient in preventing the emergence of a "black market", in which otherwise rationed products — often smuggled from the countryside — were to be purchased at prices far higher than their worth. To counter this the government established, on September 1950, the Mate leMilchama baShuk haShachor (מטה למלחמה בשוק השחור), whose goal it was to combat the forming of such a market. Yet despite the increased supervision, and the specially summoned courts, all such repression proved inefficient.
In 1952 an agreement was signed with Germany, compensating Israel for confiscation of Jewish property during the Holocaust. The consequential influx of foreign capital, a godsend to the state's struggling economy, led to the cancellation of most restrictions in 1953. In 1958 the list of rationed goods was narrowed to 11 goods in all, and in 1959 rationing of all goods save jam, sugar and coffee, was abolished altogether
Economically, austerity proved a failure, mostly due to the enormous government deficit, covered by bank loans, creating an increase in the amount of money using. Throughout austerity unemployment remained high, and inflation grew as of 1951. And yet, austerity did have its merits – none remained hungry, and shelter was found for all immigrants, shabby though it may have been.
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