Some regular readers of these Opinion columns have asked a very relevant question: “Why shouldn’t any government take business head-on when it becomes blatantly obvious that abusive profiteering is being made at the citizenry’s expense”.
Let’s just quote two examples:
- Building and construction speculators are flogging onto innocent (or outrightly ignorant?) buyers residential flats and apartments at prices which, when correctly calculated for cost of land, all building costs, plus element of decent profit, are sometimes as high as a 100% profit markup.
- Pharmacies are selling medications at prices which, when compared to the same medications being purchased at e.g. the government’s own Mater Dei Hospital Pharmacy, are being priced at something like three times over the latter.
Seeing that in this country there no longer are such things as official price controls, why is this, and much more of these abusive practices, being totally ignored by the State? Governments may have a policy of, yes, not wanting to meddle with what they often – euphemistically! – call the free market. But that should never be equated as a total abandoning of a right that it takes private business head-on, i.e. on its own playing field, i.e. the market, such abusing entities and competing with them on its own account.
What is there to stop, for example, the Ministry of Health (not to also mention the Pharmacy of Your Own Choice scheme) from having its own 100% government-owned company importer of medicines and sell these, at a decent but not obscene profit for itself too, from its own owned commercial outlets?
What is there to stop the Housing Authority from having its own commercial building contracting company to build enough housing units at a fast enough rate, and these then sold, or rented, at prices that will compete with the obscenities we are seeing being imposed on the market by private businesses?
There is nothing in any economics textbook which says that the state and the private business sectors cannot compete. They can do it purely on the fair grounds of price and quality of services, and beyond that surely the end result would include far less of the rampant and abusive and obscene profiteering which the country, and particularly those who earn less, are being made to put up with. Plus of course also a decent profit income for the government itself.
It’s not enough to preach socialism. It is also necessary to act intelligently against any practices that cause harm, and damage and suffering, to those classes in society who would be suffering through, in fact, non-action on the part of the state.