Gideon Fishelson (1937 - 1995)

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From the Thirty Day Memorial to Gideon Fishelson, 15.1.1996:

Gideon as an economist and as a researcher

The guiding principle of Gideon's professional career was the recognition that economics is intended, and capable of helping the individual and of society.

His research deals with a variety of applied topics: labor supply and inequality in the distribution of income, demand for oil by industry and by households, adoption of new technology in agriculture, utilization and exploitation of natural resources, and the estimation of environmental damages and the means to diminish them.

In these areas, he made pioneering contributions in estimating the economic parameters that are required for the conduct of economic policy.

Among others, he estimated the marginal product and the production costs of water, the willingness to pay for environmental quality, elasticity of the demand for fuel, and the factors that influence the inequality in income distribution.

Because he valued these topics, his interest in them was continual, and he returned to them again and again throughout his life.

Of special importance are his contributions to research of the Israeli economy. I will deal mainly with his research that pertains to the labor market.

He was the first to analyze the factors that affect women's participation in the Israeli labor market; the first to estimate the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor, and the first to estimate the relationship between vacancies and unemployment in Israel.

He was the first to analyze the inter-industry wage differences and the degree of competitiveness in the Israeli labor market; and was among the first to incorporate sociological and economic aspects in his research.

In these works he used measurement techniques that were relatively advanced in comparison to what was customary in our country in the early seventies.

He exploited well the available data in Israel to examine general attributes of the labor force, while many of us, including myself, grazed foreign pastures.

Gideon had a unique capacity to propose practical solutions to economic problems.

This capability was based on wide knowledge of the Israeli economy, and on deep understanding of the underlying economic principles.

A prominent example is his suggestion for the pricing of water in the context of the negotiations for peace in the Middle East. But this is only one example of many others.

Gideon also suggested a scheme to construct an oil pipeline from the Persian Gulf to the Port at Gaza, loans to finance tuition, and a system to reward the exporters of citrus fruit.

I will refer to this last example, in which I was also involved. Citrus fruit was the main export line of Israel, and for a certain period, we also had a monopolistic standing in the European markets.

In order to exploit this power, export was centralized through the Export Board for Marketing Citrus Fruit, which determined the timing and the size of the delivery to different countries.

The main difficulty was how to influence the large number of growers and make them pick the fruit at the right time. For this purpose, Gideon suggested a system of internal prices, which would be offered to the growers at the beginning of the season and would guarantee different prices to fruit that is supplied at different periods.

This simple suggestion was considered revolutionary in the eyes of the Board, which, until then had divided the income according to a "historic quota".

After an internal dispute that continued for seven years, a resolution was finally adopted, and according to specialists, it brought about the desirable results.

Meanwhile, the Board expired; the groves have been uprooted and replaced by roads and asphalt.

But the system that was suggested by Gideon is still in use.

Gideon was my colleague in the research of labor economics.

Together we investigated the changes in the wage differences by ethnic origin in Israeli society.

But cooperation went beyond the performance of joint research.

In our daily contact and, for many years, as part of the activity of the workshop in labor economics, we exchanged views and learnt from each other.

Gideon was an endless source of knowledge of the Israeli economy and knew well the institutional system as well as the acting persona.
Gideon was an excellent teacher, who taught and tutored many students.

He left a deep imprint on the instruction program of the school, by cooperating in the development of the course in econometrics, which is now a foundation stone in the instruction program.

He was attentive to his students and loved teaching.

The classes he taught were always packed, and his voice was heard from far.

Gideon as a person

Gideon was deeply rooted and confident in his way.

He did not look sideways and rarely engaged in comparisons. He was never jealous or vain.

His life flowed naturally, fearlessly, with a deep awareness of reality.

He solved the problems he encountered lightly, without anger, and without dispute with others.

Gideon did not waste his strength on arguments, grievances and complaints.

Gideon was blessed with memory, quick understanding, and boundless energy.

He willingly and lovingly contributed all his capabilities and attentive consideration to any framework in which he participated, small and large: his family, his friends, the IDF, Tel Aviv University, and the State of Israel.

Gideon was healthy and strong until he was struck by cancer. Gideon who loved and knew how to solve problems did not find a solution to his disease.

He carried his difficult suffering, according to his manner, without anger and without complaint.

The basic optimism that characterized him distanced the danger from his thought.

But cancer, according to its manner, did not release its grip and overcame this wonderful man.

Yoram Weiss
Tel Aviv University
The Eitan Berglas School of Economics

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