The audio version of my book The Privatization of Everything is celebrating the one year anniversary of its appearance (which is funny because the first year anniversary traditional gift is…paper; yes, it’s also available in paperback) and the publishers are offering a deal: 70 percent off.
Not bad. Usually, privatization costs a LOT more. And that’s sort of the point of the book, which Publishers Weekly called “a persuasive takedown of the idea that the private sector knows best.”
Privatization costs you money—and power. Every public dollar given to a private company that has a profit margin, or returns to investors, or pays high executive compensation, or spends money on lobbying is money that’s not going into the service that they have taken over. They can cut wages, hours, staff, benefits, and pensions, having a significant impact on the public service and the community surrounding it. That’s why when a company comes along and says they can perform a function more efficiently, we always have to ask what they mean by efficiency.
Listen to—or read—about Chicago’s sell-off of its parking meters, an incredibly short-term solution that has caused long-term loss of revenue and—more importantly—it cost the city its ability to make vital decisions about urban planning and creating vibrant life in its neighborhood. The book is full of such examples.
Privatization costs our society in broken social bonds and undermining democracy. It turns citizens into consumers and turns the life of a community into a marketplace. Nowhere is this clearer than the many attempts to privatize education. Privatization sets up a system of private privilege that drains the public schools of funding and broad support, exacerbating the inequalities that are already part of our society. It treats education as a consumable product, not as an indispensable public good that is necessary for a functioning democracy.
The book is an argument intended to reclaim the idea of the public and reclaim our governments as tools of the public. It is a call to use public conversation and debate to define public goods, and to ensure those public goods remain under public—democratic—control.
I hope you can take a look—or a listen.