When thinking about the difference between government action and action taken by free people trading voluntarily in markets, we find that many myths abound. Tom G. Palmer, who is Vice President for International Programs at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, General Director of the Atlas Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace, and Prosperity, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and Director of Cato University, has written an important paper that confronts these myths about markets. The eighteenth myth — Privatizaton and Marketization in Post-Communist Societies Were Corrupt, Which Shows that Markets Are Corrupting — and Palmer’s refutation is below. The complete series of myths and responses is at Twenty Myths about Markets.
Palmer is editor of the recent book The Morality of Capitalism. He will be in Overland Park and Wichita in May speaking on the moral case for capitalism. For more information and to register for these events see The Morality of Capitalism. An eleven minute podcast of Palmer speaking on this topic is at The Morality of Capitalism.
Myth: Privatizaton and Marketization in Post-Communist Societies Were Corrupt, Which Shows that Markets Are Corrupting
Myth: Privatization campaigns are almost always rigged. It’s a game that just awards the best state assets to the most ruthless and corrupt opportunists. The whole game of privatization and marketization is dirty and represents nothing more than theft from the people.
Tom G. Palmer: A variety of formerly socialist states that have created privatization campaigns have had quite varied outcomes. Some have generated very successful market orders. Others have slipped back toward authoritarianism and have seen the “privatization” processes result in new elites gaining control of both the state and private businesses, as in the emerging “Siloviki” system of Russia. The dirtiness of the dirty hands that profited from rigged privatization schemes was a result of the preexisting lack of market institutions, notably the rule of law that is the foundation for the market. Creating those institutions is no easy task and there is no well known generally applicable technique that works in all cases. But the failure in some cases to fully realize the institutions of the rule of law is no reason not to try; even in the case of Russia, the deeply flawed privatization schemes that were instituted were an improvement over the one-party tyranny that preceded them and that collapsed from its own injustice and inefficiency.
Mere “privatization” in the absence of a functioning legal system is not the same as creating a market. Markets rest on a foundation of law; failed privatizations are not failures of the market, but failures of the state to create the legal foundations for markets.