National choices: Nationalisation and Liberalisation 

AT the centre of this discussion is power and very little else. The decision between nationalisation and privatisation, which is private or joint public and private ownership, essentially foretells the power sharing arrangement of an economy. 

At its very simplest, it might appear a choice between two extremes: firstly, of pure nationalization in which the state owns all resources including the distribution of those resources. 

Secondly, the simplified notion of privatisation is the absence of government and complete ownership of resources by private entities, solely for profit. Depending on where you find yourself, both extreme scenarios are uncomfortable because they dictate who has power over you between government or private corporations. 

People are generally comfortable with government ownership because it is the custodian of national interest, by default. The flaw in this calculation occurs when a dictator insulates oneself from being answerable to citizens. 

When an individual elects him or herself custodian of national interest, experience shows that decisions are centralised and the public are explained outcomes, but not included in decision making.

In this scenario, the person becomes the state; the person decides who benefits from valuable resources. It is not wrong to suggest that sometimes, dictators even fail to draw the line between what is theirs and what belongs to the state as they believe that those national assets are in fact their own. 

In typical fashion, there is an artificial atmosphere manufactured by dictatorships to present the illusion that there is no corruption; and therefore, there is no need for the state to provide its citizens any records. 

This dangerous illusion contends, for example, that when a country has an imposed curfew for 20 years, then government has nothing to hide. That when people do not have the right to question government, when the distribution and transaction of nationalised resources is kept from the public, then there is no corruption. 

That when media and press freedoms are gagged and those that speak out are jailed, it means love is the prevailing national identity. However, these are illusions of incurable sycophancy which the citizenry eventually overcome with violent reaction. 

On the other extreme, in reference to privatisation, government can become a referee for private businesses while externalising all benefits from those resources away from those most in need. 

In this case, the benefits of privatised resources are shared between private business and government officials that relax laws for corporations to benefit with runaway profits. 

In such a scenario, citizens participate in the economy as replaceable unskilled labour or paid political tokens disguising as opposition and opinion leaders, are tilted to the benefit of foreigners’ interests that quickly reposition themselves as investors. 

Government itself, becomes a conduit in the robbery of its own citizens. Ultimately, the poor man is not the one without food or unable to find food in either environment; the poor man is the one who thinks and believes that one system is better than the other. 

Food and water can be found, but an inability to reason cannot be healed. What is lost in such empty discourse of basic choice of preference is one important thing, which is value. 

That is, who gains value from these resources? And in the calculation of value, there must be evidence of ultimate beneficiary and the most efficient means of distribution. 

Each country will have its own successes and failures. Rich countries can post their success stories on how to distribute resources because they speak from a point of abundance. 

The real challenge occurs when resources are meagre because logic is never in permanence. This is part of the reason it becomes difficult to compare success stories of rich countries to poorer ones. Even worse, to contend that there is only one way to economic success. 

The reality is that money can flow in any system and adjust to prevailing systems of government. What matters most is how the state distributes those resources. 

Whichever inclination one prefers, the best solution is the one that makes the state accountable, or at least inclines public officers and elective positions to public scrutiny. 

This last point is the most overlooked achievement of the re-introduction of multi-party politics or democracy in Zambia in 1991. Simply that the State was rescued from being personal to becoming national. 

That the sovereign was not anymore, a person but a people. And those people will decide what mode of resource distribution best suits them. 

In this respect, since the state now belongs to the people, those with a socialist or capitalist-led manifesto must convince the owners of the state if nationalisation is better than liberalisation. 

In other words, the liberalised must decide if they choose continual economic emancipation or a return to national incarceration. Whatever the proclivity, the ultimate decision is one that that allows the people to have the last say and their interest must take centre stage. 


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