private good, public bad

February 4th, 2011 § 0 comments

Stephen Law on the dirty word ‘nationalisation’

…for some industries, that “competition” [that privatisation brings] looks largely notional. In the case of the railways and power companies, for example. And we all know that the government puts much more into running the railways now than it did when it was nationalized. And it had to step in when Railtrack went bust. The service remains an expensive disaster for consumers. So much for efficiency. etc.

When this ongoing disaster is pointed out, private ownership is defended on the grounds that the privatizations was mishandled, or done in the wrong sort of way, or the companies run badly, whatever. When publicly run industries don’t fare well, on the other hand, well that’s just because they are publicly, run, isn’t it, rather than run in the wrong sort of way? That must be true, mustn’t it? Because as we all know, “private good, public bad”.

My question is, why has it become the case that even to raise the suggestion that, say, the railways should renationalized is now unthinkable for most people? Why, when people consider how the problems might be fixed, does that option never even get considered? Is it really because the arguments and evidence for private ownership are so very good? (if so, why are so many other successful railways either state run or primarily state owned?)

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