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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

OWNING IRAQ: Once upon a time there was an opportunity to persuade the people of Iraq — Sunni, Shia, Kerd, et al — why democracy is in their best interests. Not by making them read essays by Locke and Madison, but by giving them ownership of their nation's oil fields. Not ownership in the collectivist sense of communism and socialism but, says Milton Friedman, in this sense:
"Who, I ask opponents [of privatization], owns the government enterprises? The answer is, 'The public.' Well, then why not make that into a reality rather than a rhetorical flourish? Set up a private corporation and give each citizen one or one hundred shares in it. Let citizens be free to buy and sell their shares."
Sharing oil wealth, through dividend payments, would surely advance economic democracy, not to mention serving as a compelling model to other Middle East regimes. Next time we get serious about helping a formerly people learn how to be free, hopefully we'll remember how privatization can help diffuse economic and political power in the ways that self government requires.