Over the last ten years, In the Public Interest has educated organizations, leaders, and journalists nationwide about the perils of privatization—how private interests are increasingly gaining control over vital public goods. 

We’ve written about how corporate forces are taking power over the fundamentals of democracy—our voice, economy, and government. And we’ve created tools like our “10 questions” guide and helped organizations fight reckless privatization schemes. 

We’re going to continue to do all of that. So much is under attack: public education, water, transit, public parks, public health, libraries, the Postal Service, air traffic control, and much more. Where there’s money to be made there are corporations positioning to take over. 

Privatization’s downsides are simple and straightforward: precious dollars are diverted from public services and assets to profits, shareholder dividends, high CEO salaries, debt service, lobbying, political campaigns, and even charitable contributions. What worries us most is when private interests get too much control and influence over fundamental democratic decisions and our ability to provide public goods. 

I’ve written about the 40-year assault on government by corporate interests and conservative ideologues. They’ve captured legislatures and regulatory agencies, re-wrote the rules on political spending, weakened voting rights, and shifted the tax burden on to poor and working people.

Their biggest goal is to fundamentally redefine our relationship with government, so that instead of being citizens with rights and responsibilities, we become individual consumers of public services, where we get only what we can pay for. The bottom line: by attacking and capturing government, they are killing the idea of public

We’re called “In the Public Interest” for a reason, and our new direction for 2020 is simple. We’re going to show what public control over public goods means and looks like—both a governing vision and practical examples from across the country.

Like Kansas City, Missouri, making public transit free for all. Or the Puerto Rican public school that assigned a social worker to every student. Or the small Florida town that opened its own grocery store.

Becoming pro-public means first and foremost reclaiming the ideal of the public in a free, democratic society. It’s how we think about what’s in the “public interest.” It also means we need to assert a progressive view of freedom, our vision of how government institutions must advance and protect those ideals and how power imbalances get in the way.

We often hear that government is needed when markets fail. We disagree. There are market things and public things. They’re different things, like apples and oranges. Here’s what we mean by “public” (or, what’s in the public interest):

  • The things we can only do if we do them together, like cleaning the air, ensuring every person has quality health care, educating every child, and much more.
  • The things we all benefit from regardless of whether we use the specific service or asset, like public education.
  • The things that protect and support us all like safe food, Social Security, and Medicare.
  • The things that make us a better, fairer, more compassionate, and more democratic nation.

Public things need adequate resources, so a pro-public vision must include a more progressive tax system. Corporations and the wealthy must pay their fair share in taxes and paying taxes must be reframed as all of our responsibility and contribution to our communities and democracy rather than a burden. We’re citizens with needs and responsibilities, not just consumers acting in our own interest.

Pro-public also means we need public institutions that live up to our highest democratic and civic ideals, meaning: 

  • “Us” is really all of us. We must continue to erase all barriers to full inclusion.
  • We need well-run public agencies staffed by highly trained, mission-driven, and valued staff.
  • Government should prevent the concentration of power by the wealthy few, while protecting us all and the planet.

We are pro-government because it is the only institution capable of ensuring that public things remain public. Government is the democratic means that allow us to make sure everyone has clean water, great schools, and a safe neighborhood. Government sets the rules that give workers legal rights to negotiate with employers on the job. Government sets the rules that allows—or prohibits—corporations (and individuals, for that matter) to shift harm to the rest of us and the planet.

So, what are we actually going to do?

We’ll continue to help build a pro-public movement that can effectively compete to govern in a way that puts public over private and creates public institutions that deliver on that promise. 

Everything we do—our research, writings, trainings, policy work—will be oriented towards creating a larger, more inclusive, educated, connected, and active movement competing to govern across the country.

We’ll create tools and conduct training for leaders, organizers, and activists to fully use the tools and powers of governance. We’ll develop and support new rules and revenue generators to expand access to public goods, rebalance economic power, and eliminate the corrupting influences of money in democracy. We’ll lift up good things government does and has done—there’s plenty of that too. And, of course, we’ll do everything we can to stop the spread of reckless privatization schemes.

Stay tuned. And send us ideas: info@inthepublicinterest.org

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