WE MUST sell everything that can be sold - in conscience." Can you imagine a Scottish politician even hinting at such a sentiment? The quote is from Kakha Bendukide, the new economics minister of the Republic of Georgia.
There seems to be little he will not auction. He only takes cash. Promissory notes or other devices do not interest this remarkable evangelist for free markets. Where our leaders accrue ever more barnacles of dependency, Bendukide has sold off the concert halls and even, amazingly, the national Mint. With the blessing of the new-broom president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, and the prime minister, Zurab Zhvania, the economy minister is shedding most of the Georgian state's assets.
Something remarkable seems to happen. It is close to alchemy. Liabilities on the public books are transformed into assets in the marketplace. All that is needed is the application of proper pricing and quality ... or abandoning unwanted services into those valued in exchange.
Bendukide has sold off the international airport, the oil terminals, the state's vineyards, film studios, and phone company. He did not pause to urge the civil servants in the department of industrial policy or the National Investment Agency to improve their acts. He closed them down. Next to go will be the Monopolies Authority and the National Innovation Agency. Any Scottish political leader that even suggested euthanasia for Scottish Enterprise would be ridiculed however goofy its investments continue to be.
Bendukide perhaps has an advantage in trying his hand at applied economics. He trained as a biologist. Born in 1956 in Tbilisi, the capital, he made a fortune from biotech companies and heavy engineering plants after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is not in the league of the true oligarchs, but he had enough to retire in relative opulence until the new regime asked him to apply his evident Midas (NYSE: MDS - news) touch to the entire economy of Georgia.
Bendukide says he has two heroes - Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. He suggests they offer insights into how life represents a vast end-independent flux. The economy is not analogous to the great sweep of evolution, but it does show how spontaneous forces achieve more diversity and complexity than any plan or directed efforts.
Georgia has been a lavish recipient of overseas aid from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other donors. It is a measure of his determination that he says he wants to renounce all such aid programmes within two years. "They only m