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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jury Is OutOn Voucher Privatization

How can it be that the largest privatization campaign in the history of mankind is widely considered by Russians to be a failure? As the voucher privatization program approaches its conclusion at the end of this month, 12 percent of Russians still have done nothing with their vouchers according to a recent poll, while another 12 percent have simply given them away. Barely a day goes by without the television news showing investors who placed their piece of Russia in an unlicensed fund that promptly collapsed while its directors disappeared with the proceeds. On days when there are no such scams to report one hears from investors who were blithely promised substantial dividends on their vouchers from investment funds or companies, but so far have received nothing and feel cheated. Also discouraging is the statistic that fully 30 percent of Russians sold their vouchers for cash because they had no faith in the voucher concept. They preferred to accept a few rubles immediately than to take a gamble. In fact only an estimated 46 percent of Russians did what they were supposed to under the voucher program, investing their share in the national wealth. But the gloomy picture that these statistics paint is misleading. For while disappointment is immediate, investments take time to materialize. As stock investors have learned the world over, playing in the equity markets is not a short-term affair. Investments take time to mature and Russian companies have further to go than most. It is only when the emerging stock markets can sort out winners and losers that voucher investors will know the true value of their holdings. For a people that has never lived in a market economy, is deeply suspicious of the motives of its government and pessimistic about the country's economic future, it is small wonder that talk of possible future benefits from vouchers seems ephemeral. But to declare as a failure Russia's privatization program, which has taken more government property away from the direct control of the state in a shorter period of time than any other in history, is premature at the least. Sections of the oil and gas industries have recently been allowed to privatize and shares in these companies are almost certain to bear fruit. Perhaps in two years or so when these and other privatized firms begin raking in profits and driving up their share prices, when residents of Syktyvkar can watch the value of their investments rise and fall on the Moscow stock exchanges, the voucher program that is now so despised will be viewed quite differently.