John Stossel owes me $1,000.
He recalled in his Aug. 9 column that he once bet his readers $1,000 they couldn't name one thing government does better than the private sector.
He added: "I am yet to pay. Free enterprise does everything better."
Well, John, it's time to pay up. I can name several things government does better, including the major one: democracy.
Whether they succeed or fail miserably, CEOs set their own outrageous salaries and retirement (or firing) bonuses. Compare this with the city council in California with high salaries and retirement benefits.
The townspeople rose up and put effective pressure on these officials, whose salaries and retirement benefits, though high, were a pittance compared with that of private sector CEOs who do their business behind closed doors, away from public pressure.
Private enterprise does salaries and retirement worse than government. What if a few years back we had privatized Social Security? It would be G.O.N.E.
The only retirement big business does well is for the CEOs. Rather than look out for the millions who need pensions like Social Security, the private sector looks out for the few, even if they flopped as managers.
Let's face it. Big business doesn't know or do democracy. And a handy thing for big business: it doesn't have to stick around and clean up the messes it makes. It can declare bankruptcy or beg for government bailouts.
In fact, that's another thing government does better: respond in emergencies without considering whether it's worth it from a profit-making perspective.
Old New York City used to have private fire fighting companies. Some inconveniently went out of business just before big rescue responses were needed. They were not dependable.
Often there isn't time to factor in profits before providing life and death services.
Another thing government does better (and this is one that makes Stossel scream): wealth redistribution.
Persons like Stossel see nothing wrong with more and more wealth being accumulated in fewer and fewer hands, as happened in Wall Street recently. Yet look what resulted. Even Alan Greenspan admitted Wall Street needed effective, sufficiently-funded government regulation.
Wall Street can't be trusted to regulate itself; it needs governing; it needs government.
We need to look at the body economic just as we look at the body politic. A body does not function without thorough blood and nutrient circulation. If blood or nutrients pool up, or bypass parts of the body, the body malfunctions and eventually dies.
It may become bloated, out of shape, with a fat gut and a bad heart.
Today's big business doesn't seem to care about the body economic, just about getting theirs, about amassing wealth. It's like and this is not stretching the analogy too far a cancer that thrives at the body's expense.
At least J. P. Morgan in the late 1800s saw the need to keep the body economic functioning. He got his rich banking buddies together and they anted up a considerable sum to do what government bailouts did today.
The economy back then, just like ours recently, needed a transfusion. Imagine today's wealthy doing what J. P. and his crony CEOs did.
Those old boys were practical and realistic. They saw and acknowledged the big picture, the need for a strong and viable economy as a precondition for doing business. And they shelled out for it.
Today's business big shots (and their fans like Stossel) seem too stuck in their narrow ideological focus to do likewise.
So while I'd like the $1,000 from Stossel for Democracy, I'd really like it for Wealth Redistribution. That way, he'd have to practice what made him lose the bet: wealth redistribution, from him to me.
(Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)