Free-Market Approach to State Inertia

The number of federal programs that the government is trying to implement is mind-boggling. A simple search for "federal programs" on Yandex turns up hundreds of news items on these so-called targeted programs, whose goals include developing the Far East, boosting computer use, and designing new launch vehicles to put satellites into orbit from northern Russia.

In the past, several similar programs saw their funds disappear, such as one of the projects to build a high-speed railroad between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many have remained on paper or died a slow death due to a lack of financing.

But that has not discouraged the authorities from contemplating new programs. A Federation Council committee decided this week to draft a separate federal program titled "Health of the Peoples of the North of Russia," just as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bemoaned the poor implementation of existing programs at a meeting of ministers.

As Moscow Times reporter Anatoly Medetsky wrote in Tuesday's issue, the government has so far spent only about 6.5 percent of the 682.2 billion rubles earmarked for 47 targeted federal programs this year. Despite the delays, Putin said additional programs would be started later this year.

While many of the programs deserve praise for aiming to resolve the country's most pressing economic and social problems, the history of their implementation suggests that there is something inherently deficient in the way they are managed. Putin's suggestion this week that the management of the programs be outsourced to private companies could be a step in the right direction.

But, of course, even private management would fail if the programs were not handed out through fair tenders, were inadequately financed, and did not receive robust oversight by the relevant authorities.

There is a good alternative, though. Rather than spread itself thin by trying to tackle everything, the government should only consider intervening where the free market fails, such as in affordable and accessible health care.

If infrastructure and other conditions necessary for private businesses are created to operate at a profit, then the market economy would run more efficiently than any federal target program -- be it the development of the Far East or the building of skiing facilities in the South.