You are here:

Once: Invisible Losses

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Spain Herald, December 21, 2005.

The National Organization for the Blind in Spain (ONCE) is one of those organizations whose image is as impeccable as it is undeserved. Its perceived excellence stems from its work helping the disabled and a long-standing goal of integrating them into society. That this perception is mistaken is due to two rarely discussed facts: where this help comes from, and the success of integration.

ONCE's great social achievement, the supposed social integration of the blind and other disabled groups, is nothing more than a mirage that disappears as soon as you take even a superficial look at it. While a high percentage of blind Spaniards do find work today, the vast majority's (more than 90 percent) jobs are closely linked to selling lottery tickets' not exactly full integration into society.

On the other hand, this integration is carried out thanks to a governmental protected privilege. ONCE has a quasi-monopoly on the selling of lottery tickets. Anyone trying to sell such tickets without tough-to-get government approval goes to jail.

But privilege doesn't always lead to success. Just as ONCE.

Last week it announced a big increase in its red numbers, from 12 million euros last year to 75 million this year--and this despite enjoying barriers to entry that allow ONCE to operate in protectionist conditions.

But not even the strongest barriers can keep the consumer from abandoning a favoured product if he considers its cost inferior to the benefit of buying "everyone's dream every day". However, the good relationship ONCE has with those holding political power will allow it to ignore the consumers' verdict with a dictator's disdain.

According to what the previous Popular Party administration agreed to in February 2004, ONCE will receive subsidies to cover the loss of consumer support. ONCE has become just another party of the state.

And the blind the perfect tool for extracting rents from the rest of Spain.

Gabriel Calzada Alvarez is CNE's representative in Spain and President of the Instituto Juan de Mariana.

Links: (opens in a new window)and (opens in a new window)