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An ever increasing number were being closed down in the sparsely populated regions in the east of Germany as so many people had moved away and the demand for medicines simply wasn’t high enough. To begin with, mobile pharmacies were deployed but after a while even these were no longer profitable. When they were taken off the roads, the first voices could be heard talking about the failure of the market economy. The decision was made within no time at all: as pharmacies provide a public service, they should be nationalised so that everyone has access to them wherever they live.
The ‘Grand Coalition’ did not have to brace themselves against much opposition as the pharmacists made up only a small percentage of the voters in Germany. The heads of the two main coalition parties also thought it made good electoral sense not to let the more left-wing parties get the better of them. And so, after just a few reports on TV showing the protesters brandishing slogans such as “Stop the rot!” or “What’s next? The hospitals?”, the pharmacists were soon forgotten.
The rest fell – almost automatically – into place as the thought had already been put into words: as pharmacies provide a primary medical service, then, so too, do the hospitals and doctors’ surgeries. This ignited a huge public debate accompanied by a large number of expert reports and opinions. In keeping with the spirit of the time, the reports calling for the government to expand its provision of public services found their way to the top of the pile.
This spirit spread like wildfire and soon affected the markets that had always been associated with nationalisation in the past. First the waste management sector was nationalised – something that had already been seen in Hungary – and then garden and landscaping firms and road traffic safety businesses and, of course, all water supply networks. All private springs – from Gerolstein, to Apollinaris, to Bad Liebenwerda – were nationalised because it is the responsibility of the state to provide its population with vital services, especially water! The sales of such products should not be dictated by private sector companies and their profit-driven operations.
When the next expert report suggested that providing people with food and warm clothing was a vital service that should also be managed by local authorities, food retailers tried desperately to explain how high their VAT and local business tax bills were – money that helped maintain the prosperity of our society. Again there was a major debate and the Minister for Trade and Industry and Vice Chancellor made it very clear that it would be hugely advantageous to nationalise the food retail market as the products could be sold more cheaply as state-owned businesses were exempt from paying VAT. He owed it to the people, to his party and to himself to take this step. His boss did not disagree.
It was, therefore, only a matter of time before old files were dusted down and opened up: it had been a mistake to privatise telecommunications as had been the liberalisation of the rail network. This error should be rectified immediately. And so what followed was the nationalisation of the telecommunications industry, postal services and the railways and – a logical step – the whole of the logistics sector as this business was responsible for supplying the population with the basic items they needed: so it’s a vital service, so nationalise it!
It was the Finance Minister who worked out what this cost the state and who not only complained that the lack of competition was leading to a loss in quality but also that tax revenue had dried up. There was no money to pay civil servant salaries or state pensions. His colleagues in the German states had capitulated long ago and declared themselves bankrupt.
When the Finance Minister handed in his resignation, a government spokesperson said: “Nobody had set out with the intention of creating a socialist state.”
Herwart Wilms, REMONDIS Managing Director