# 447  

February 2003




I'll Have Fries With That... Next Spring

 

by Amy Ridenour

 

As Winston Churchill famously observed, democracy is the worst political system in the world - except for all the others.

The same is true for capitalism.

Some argue that recent scandals at WorldCom, Global Crossing, Enron and elsewhere are proof that capitalism doesn't work. They argue that business, especially big business, should simply be nationalized.

These folks want to throw the baby - the capitalistic engine that has made the United States and this era the most prosperous nation and time of any in the world - out with the bathwater.

Ironically, if they succeeded, we'd not only be economically poorer, but our economy would be more corrupt as well.

There are two words for anyone who believes business scandals can be avoided by a government takeover of industry: political scandals.

Fans of nationalization should be asked: Ever heard of them?

The rest of us have. In fact, political scandals are more common than business scandals. Just open a newspaper.

Corporations today are supervised by accountable boards of directors watched by private auditors and government regulators who are joined by the unofficial supervision of Wall Street financial analysts, the scrutiny of stockholders and the informal oversight of the business press.

A nationalized business would be run by government, which reports to... government. The news media covers government, but when government doesn't want it to, it simply classifies something as secret.

So much for checks and balances, scrutiny and oversight.

Big business might not be perfect, but no cure for business scandals can be found in turning over industry to the same government that not too long ago had a huge House bank scandal.

If politicians are so much more honest and competent than businessmen, why are the same folks who push nationalization always calling for campaign finance reform?

How is it that the federal government has lost - simply misplaced - literally billions of taxpayers dollars over the years?

Why is it that some federal government agencies are in such financial shambles that they literally are inauditable?

We need not go far to see what happens when business is nationalized.

Our neighbor to the north, Canada, nationalized its health care system. Now, over 2.85 percent of the total Canadian population of 30.8 million is waiting in line for medical treatment. That appalling figure is nearly three percent of all Canadians, including the healthy, not merely three percent of all Canadians who need treatment.1

To put these figures into perspective, if the U.S. had nationalized its health system with results comparable to Canada's, almost 7.9 million Americans would be waiting for treatment.2

In Canada, waiting five weeks to start chemotherapy for cancer is considered a short wait. In Saskatchewan, the typical wait is ten weeks and it is 12.6 weeks in Newfoundland.

Yes, over the past few years some shenanigans went on in the telecommunications, energy trading and cable television industries, among others.

However, if we nationalize those industries, we'll still have scandals.

What we'll also get is a poorer economy. Care to wait 12 weeks for a dial tone, anyone?

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Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

 


Footnotes:

1 Michael Walker and Greg Wilson, Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada, The Fraser Institute, Vancouver, 2001. The survey was conducted between December 2000 and February 2001. This study can be found at: http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/admin/books/files/wyt.pdf. Waiting times are calculated as the median time spent waiting by patients.
2 2.85374% of the total U.S. population of 276.54 million equals 7,891,739.


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