Public services are a public good

Posted on May 30, 2013 by


I’m having trouble understanding the American rejection of the public provision of services. As far as I can tell, this is a purely religious objection. I.e. it’s something that they take on faith, even in the face of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

In general, privatization of commoditized services (things like sewage treatment, electricity provision, and public transportation) follows the same eventual path: declining services and increasing prices. This is because there is no taxpayer subsidy (hence the price increase) and the service must produce high profits despite high running costs (the private owners expect a substantial return on investment).

Americans seem completely unperturbed by this, in direct opposition to the expected natural reaction. Americans love “free enterprise” and worship at the altar of profit, which is why they are perfectly happy to be ruled by Wall Street and K Street. Rather than insist that such activities remain under local government control, where citizens have a direct say in how things should be run, they rush to centralize everything in “private” hands — often foreign nationalistic hands, in all irony.

These private hands then load the system up with debt (which they receive at a stark discount from the Fed, who indirectly taxes the population to provide it — the jokes on you), neglect improvements, slash salaries, and milk it through exorbitant prices for as long as they can until they declare bankruptcy and stroll off laughing their heads off at the idiots they’ve conned and counting their cash. Idiots who now have no public transportation and can’t keep their job because they can’t get to work.

There’s a sucker born every day.

Privateers say that they must do this (There Is No Alternative) to remove “inefficiencies” from the system, but those inefficiencies are often central to the system. Take bus ticket prices, for instance. Privateers denounce municipal public transport for “losing money” (as if the funds had been misplaced under a couch somewhere). But, in fact, the ticket prices are kept low so that they are affordable to everyone — even the poor, even the people who work at the service — and the working capital is stocked up with taxpayer funds on the other end. That taxpayer funding is a cost borne largely by the middle and upper classes, generally through property taxes. Middle and upper classes who are less-likely to ride the train.

And this is where American solidarity ends. Anytime you try to separate a wealthy person True Patriot from his Almighty Dollar, all hell breaks loose. This is tyranny! They shout from the gun bunker they’re cowering in while making love to their gold bars.

No, actually, it’s the precise opposite of tyranny. Tyranny is the result of a concentration of power (whether in public or private hands), usually facilitated by gross economic inequality and the lack of social mobility that feeds it. Inequality that is driven and then exacerbated by a lack of social solidarity and a splitting of the populace into tribes and classes. The more you remove the ability of others to earn their income honestly, through privatizations, inflation, cheap credit, and etc., the more tyranny you will have.

Let’s take a look at this chart again, and find the people who need public transport to get to work:

Cottagers and slaves. Mostly slaves. Well, if we raise the bus fare and then take it away altogether, we’ve pulled away their economic opportunity, haven’t we? We’ve entrenched their status just a little bit more. Now that man in the bunker can finally afford to hire them at slave wages to guard his barbed-wire fence and chauffeur his daughter over to the neighbor’s bunker for playtime.

All I can say to this is…