Open Thread: What Municipal Services Should Be Privatized? Contracted Out? Kept in The Public Sector?

Today's installment of Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey counsels The Mistake on the Lake and other cities to "Privatize It," to sell off certain publicly owned assets and get out of the business of others altogether. Or to contract out in a competitive bidding process that, if done properly, should lower costs while improving services.

What city services would you, gentle readers, like to seen sold off forever? Contracted out? And, perhaps most intriguingly given the libertarian bent of most Hit & Runners, kept firmly within the bosom of the state?

Consider this an open thread on privatization.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Trash collection.

  • ||

    [William F.] Buckley mocked what he saw as the libertarians' effete and useless disengagement from the cold war, scoffing at them for shuffling off from serious geopolitics to their little intellectual seminars on demunicipalizing garbage removal.
    In 1963, FEE board chairman E. W. Dykes, an Ohio architect, made the following statement. I think it applies in many ways.

    "War is the culmination of the breaking of libertarian principles, not once, but thousands of times. We are challenged to jump in at this point and apply our principles to get out of the unholy mess, built up over years and years of error on errors. I suggest it would be a very little different challenge had he posed this proposition: "You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon is surrounded. Your ammunition is gone. Two of your squad leaders are dead, the third is severely wounded. Now, Mr. Libertarian, let's see you get out of this one with your little seminars.
    My answer—"demunicipalize the garbage service."
    Now wait, don't give me up as a nut yet. I have a point. That second lieutenant is a goner. And so is the prospect of a lasting peace until man learns WHY it is wrong to municipalize the garbage service. You can't apply libertarian principles to wrong things at their culmination and expect to make much sense. It is too fundamental. You have to start back at the very beginning and that is precisely what our little seminars are for. There are people who build for tomorrow; there are people who build for a year; there are people who look forward a generation—the libertarian, a part of the "remnant," takes the long view—he is looking forward to the time when war will be looked on as we now look on cannibalism, a thing of the past. . . . What do we do in our little seminars? We make the case for freedom which cannot coexist with interventionism. . . . Again I say: We will never end wars until we at least understand why the garbage service should be removed from the jurisdiction of the police force—that is, government. (260-1)

  • ||

    Source that got cut off when I tried to copy and paste on a phone was Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism.

  • johnl||

    Great quote from Dykes. Wow Reason should hire that Doherty guy.

  • ||

    I would not privatize cops, DAs etc.

    Everybody else is fair game. Parks, the library, even the fire department.

  • Mango Punch||

    Why do you differentiate between police and other public safety?

  • Naga Sadow||

    Could you really figure out what to charge people for saving a house/building? What if they haven't paid before? Let the home/building burn down and jeopardize the homes/buildings around it? Same thing with policing.

  • George||

    Lived in a remote sub-division growing up. Fire protection was a private operation. You paid a monthy fee, and they took care of you.

    A house in the neighborhood burned to the ground because they didn't pay for services. The private fire company dispatched to the site and watched to make sure the fire didn't spread to the houses next door (whose owners had paid their monthly fees).

    When you pay cash every month to a service provider, it becomes really obvious what you are or aren't paying for.

    Having property taxes captured by your mortgage company and then forwarded to the state and county breaks the direct line sight between payment and service. Tends to lead to unrealistic expectations.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Really? I wasn't aware of that. You got a link or anything?

  • George||

    40 years ago in rural Georgia. I imagine the never ending expansion of government has replaced the private fire department by now.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Huh. I didn't know about that. I'm cool with it.

  • Joshua||

    Unincorporated parts of Maricopa County are like this: http://www.rmfire.com/

    I paid the fee until our subdivision was incorporated into Mesa.

  • George||

    The raisins do manage to keep the county taxes in check.

  • George||

    I should note that the private fire service verified there were no occupants left in the burning building. They were prepared to save lives, but the house burned.

  • Kip||

    That's like saying what if a doctor decides not to treat someone because the patient is delinquent on past services.

    Fire and police departments that are for profit will regulate themselves. The ones that refuse to render services would likely go out of business.

    Police men and fire men would are not likely to be involved in the billing department.

  • George||

    Firefighters won't every arrive with guns drawn and shoot your dog while putting out a grease fire.

    There is a fundamental difference between providing safety services and enforcing laws.

  • John||

    Sole function of government is to protect liberties and provide a venue for dealing with situations where 1 party feels their rights were infringed upon by another. That is what the police and courts were designed for, and the Constitution allows for that (hence life, liberty and pursuit of happiness).

    Everything else is a good and should be done by the private sector.

    Fire protection is a good. As far as paying for it, it could easily be built into your home owner's insurance or be bought and paid for separately.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Dammit JsubD! Quit typing so fast!

  • ||

    The one thing with fire protection is that it's dangerous to just let fires burn. While it doesn't have to be run by the government, seems like someone has got to be putting out fires, regardless of whether the consumer is up on their payments. Not saying that there isn't a libertarian solution to that problem, just that it's something that should be considered.

  • George||

    see above

  • ||

    Ah, I see. Well, that's one way of handling the issue.

    Another option would be to simply be able to place a lien on a homestead if you've provided emergency fire removal services for someone not paying their fee.

  • George||

    I see opportunities for someone to run around setting fires and then the fire company putting liens on a whole neighborhood.

    Eminent Domain by alternative means I suppose ;-)

  • ||

    Yeah, that occurred to me, too. Ever hear about how Marcus Licinius Crassus made his fortune?

  • George||

    Nope, but I'm all ears so to speak.

  • ||

    Here's a decent summary from an entry on Crassus on a Roman history site:

    After Sulla took power in Rome his supporters fed on the opportunities provided by his policy of proscription and confiscation. None of these men took more advantage than Crassus. He bought up land and properties of the condemned at cheap prices and made a fortune in mining and slave trading. He maintained his own private force of slaves which he used as a fire-fighting brigade. However, his real intention was not providing a public service, but bargaining people into selling property cheaply. His troop would arrive at the scene of a burning building, and Crassus would bargain with the owner to buy the property. The longer the owner resisted, the longer Crassus would lower the price and let the property burn on. At times when an owner refused to sell, his slaves would let the property burn completely to the ground. While Crassus would eventually make himself the richest man in Rome through these less than the ethical methods, Pompey established himself as Rome's premier general.
  • Naga Sadow||

    He was the richest man . . . till the Parthians cut off his head and poured molten gold into his mouth.

  • ||

    Well, yeah, he was in his seventies by the time that happened.

  • George||

    Now I have become spam. Apparently merely thanking somone for posting some interesting information will trigger the filter 8-(

  • ||

    Just make sure you don't use special characters, or you'll be banned as foreign spam.

    For the record, I still hate most of the visible parts of the upgrade, including these pestilential nested, threaded, bullshit comments. No offense, Mike--just my user bias.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Word. These threaded comments must be ended. With violence if necessary. Damned if I know how to go about assaulting the tubez though. George? Any thoughts?

  • ||

    I like the idea that the Second American Revolution began as a massive cyberassault against Hit & Run.

  • George||

    I'm too old for revolution. But I can provide financial support.

  • ||

    Ya'll are all just a bunch of nihilists.

  • ||

    For the last, say, 25 years (with a 3 year break when I lived in Dallas), I have enjoyed the protection of, wait for it, volunteer fire departments.

    I give, voluntarily, to support them. Their expenses are typically equipment and maybe one or two professional fire fighters.

    Works like a charm. A neighbor (not, fortunately, an immediate neighbor) caught fire last year or year before, and I counted three volunteer fire departments at the scene.

  • ||

    Yep. Here in MD too. Works very well.

    My only complaint is that the nearest one to me controls the traffic light at the end of my street, since they're across from it. I can't tell you how many times I've sat through several cycles for them just turning the truck around or making a grocery store run. grumblegrumble

  • George||

    The two towns I live between both have volunteer fire departments. The ambulance is volunteer as well.

    The city owns all the equipment, but the staff are completely volunteer.

  • ||

    Stupid me--I didn't even think about that real-life example of an alternative.

  • ||

    J sub D -- the majority of cops ALREADY are privatized. Mall cops, private security forces guarding businesses, bodyguards, etc.

    Getting the remaining 40% or so isn't that hard to do.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Decision making?

  • Naga Sadow||

    Water, sewage, and power. My kneejerk reaction is to include police/firefighters as well but I haven't the slightest clue how to manage that.

  • ||

    Prostitutes

  • Naga Sadow||

    Prostitutes aren't privatized? Or did you mean to suggest subsidies to brothels like in ancient Athens?

  • ||

    Ok they just need deregulation.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Prostitutes are regulated? Where the hell do you live? Nevada?

  • virginia||

    privatize the Division of Motor Vehicles. privatize it to ribbons.

  • ||

    Trash Distribution

  • ||

    Sports stadiums.

  • bend||

    Why no mention, so far, of the usual suspects?
    Numbers one and two: education and liquor.

  • bend||

    I guess ed. and liquor are state-run programs and not municipal. But they need to be privatized anyway.

  • virginia||

    my prop tax just went up 10% so the ed. budget could go up 2% while enrollment stayed flat. so yeah, privatize it.

  • skr||

    HOLY CRAP!!!

  • Joshua||

    I can't believe anybody anywhere has municipalized liquor.

    I loved AZ where it was always public & you could get it from a grocery store.

  • Mad Elf||

    What Municipal services should be privatized?

    All of them.

  • billy-jay||

    This.

  • DMXRoid||

    Police and fire departments, much like EMS services have been mostly privatized.

  • The Gobbler||

    First Ever Recall Effort of a U.S. Senator Cleared by N.J. Court:

    It has apparently never been done before, but a Tea Party group in New Jersey has won the first round in its effort to recall a U.S. Senator -- Democrat Robert Menendez.

    "We are loathe to strike down a component of our State's charter [Constitution] that fortifies the democratic role of our citizens," an Appeals Court panel ruled Wednesday morning.

    Tea Partiers upset with rising taxes tried last year to get permission from New Jersey's Secretary of State to begin a petition recall campaign against Menendez.

    When that was denied, they went to court. And now they've won. At least the first round.

    http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news.....94517.html

  • ||

    A senator has never been recalled? There's something wrong with that.

  • Joshua||

    Keep in mind they've been appointed for half the existence of the office.

  • ||

    State legislatures would seem even more likely to want to recall a senator than the general public, but I don't think recall was really in the political mix back then.

    Repealing the 17th would be a nice idea. Maybe this healthcare crap could make that a national argument. Probably not, but maybe.

  • dennis||

    One would assume that people with the education necessary to be Appeals Court Judges would know that one is not "loathe" to do something, one is "loath" to do it.

  • ||

    Roads.

    As for cops and fire departments, I might be against privatization unless Obama and the Dems make it easy for someone like Andy Stern to take over their unions.

  • ||

    Privatize it - don't criticize it
    Privatize it and I will advertise it

    Some call it denationalize
    Some call it capitalism
    Some call it Big Business
    Some of them call it free market

    Privatize it - don't criticize it
    Privatize it and I will advertise it

    Private businesses do it
    And individuals too
    Privatize it, yeah, yeah
    That's the best thing you can do
    Firemen do it
    Doctors do it
    Utilities do it
    Even the police too

    Privatize it - don't criticize it
    Privatize it and I will advertise it

    It's good for the roads
    It's good for efficiency
    Good for accountability
    Even defense and security

    Privatize it - don't criticize it
    Privatize it and I will advertise it

    Politicians hate it
    And they avoid it
    Libertarians love it
    One day we will have it

  • PIRS||

    + 1

    BTW heller, I finally got around to replying to your last comments in our ongoing thread here:
    http://reason.com/blog/2010/03.....nt_1612225

  • ||

    Public housing agencies and developments.

  • wayne||

    Vote counting.

  • wayne||

    swat teams

  • ||

    I'm sure Blackwater would love to help out with that one...

  • I, Kahn O'Clast||

    I would privatize pretty much everything except for public safety (fire, police, courts) ... Depending on population density, sewage and trash removal can become tricky. Were I live sewage and trash are private responsibilities. Every now and then I find my trash cans filled to the brim with other's waste and we have a couple of septics that are in serious need of pumping..... The local merchants provide public restrooms for the tourists that are widely used by locals who do not have proper facilities of their own.....

    Take this up to a large enough scale and I can smell trouble (pun intended)

  • ||

    Fire and police can and should be privitized. You contract for a company to put out your house if it is on fire, you contract for a company to protect you from others who want to do you harm, and investigate and arrest those who do harm you.

    About the only parts of municipal government that would be hard to completely privatize would be the roads, the legislature, and the judiciary. And even the roads could be contracted out to a private contractor, so long as they were required to allow anyone who has paid their road maintenance fees and not violated too many traffic laws to drive on those roads. And most of the judiciary could be privatized under binding arbitration by private firms.

  • I, Kahn O'Clast||

    I used to think the way you do, but I no longer think that safety is only a private good but, rather, a public one as well - at least to a certain level. Fire is surely one.

  • Charles Hueter||

    One can categorize goods and services into "private" and "public" as they wish, but regardless of the label chosen, it doesn't negate the essential libertarian requirement that those goods and services be financed, produced, marketed, distributed, and administered without aggression. Volunteers, private agencies, co-ops, organized neighborhood watches, transnational businesses, and everything in-between can accomplish that. Tax-supported government agents cannot.

  • Caleb||

    Amen. Too often people forget that co-operative and volunteer efforts succeed just as well (if not better) in the free market than they do in over-regulated markets.

  • PIRS||

    "What Municipal Services Should Be Privatized?"

    All of the above.

    "Kept in The Public Sector?"

    None of the above.

    Any questions?

  • The Gobbler||

    Privatize Federal Lawmaking.

    York: Pelosi: 'Once We Kick Through This Door', More Reform Will Follow:

    http://www.washingtonexaminer......41467.html

  • ||

    We had private fire departments for a long time in this country. I think the absence of any private fire departments should probably speak volumes about the general experience with private departments.

    Many of them would get into fights with other departments over who got to stop the fire while the building burnt. They would sabotage other departments efforts to stop fires so they would get the glory of fighting the fire. (Cf. Gangs of New York) Of course a private entity would always be tempted to collect an emergency service fee--- i.e. demand cash while your house burned.

  • private fire department||

    Nice house you got burning there. It would be a shame...

  • ||

    There shouldn't BE multiple departments in charge of fighting the fire on a particular structure. The insurance company who insures against fire should be responsible for putting out the fire, or paying for the damage if they fail to do so.

    Align incentives like that, and it will work.

  • George||

    You could easily see a national home insurance provider subcontracting with local service providers for such things as fire protection.

  • ||

    There's no reason that private fire insurance/service can't be like not having health insurance. Sure, you can skip it, but when the time comes that you needed it, boy will it cost you.

    They could easily have a form that you sign when the the fire "department" shows up to put out your fire, authorizing them to charge you for services rendered. Or not. Your choice.

    Maybe what we need is national fire insurance, so that no one will ever have to choose between putting food on the table and putting their house out.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    We've had some kind of war going somehwere for a while. I think the absence of peace should speak volumes about the experience of not killing some darkies somewhere.

    Public fire departments avoid the temptation of demanding cash while the house is burning. They just point the gun right at you before the house starts burning and take your money on a monthly basis whether you want to pay or not.

  • ||

    I think the absence of any private fire departments should probably speak volumes about the general experience with private departments.

    Umm, check your premises. There are thousands of private (read, volunteer) fire departments in this country.

  • I, Kahn O'Clast||

    And not a single one gets by without public assistance.

  • George||

    A publicly-regulated, private enterprise is by definition a private enterprise.

  • George||

    Never mind, I misread your comments.

    Working and surfing are a dangerous combination.

  • George||

    Never mind, I misread your comments.

    Working and surfing are a dangerous combination.

  • Rick||

    If I could select one area that I could direct the entire weight of the libertarian masses to, it would be education.

    If we could win that battle, we could change the course of all our Titanics.

  • private fire department||

    +100 (A+)

  • ||

    I think the absence of any private fire departments should probably speak volumes about the general experience with private departments.

    I think it speaks volumes about the ability of politicians to pander to people who want a unionized monopoly for a given service, not about the ability of private companies (such as the one that insures your house against fire) to put out those fires should they occur.

  • ||

    A private company wouldn't build (in say a typical small city) a $10 million dollar infrastructure with ongoing annual costs of $5 million to put out, say, 50 fires in houses and decrepit buildings.

  • ||

    A private company in that situation would subcontract out the actual firefighting.

    It could even subcontract it out to a government-run firefighting service. The difference is, they would have the ability to walk away if the price or service was substandard.

  • George||

    So it would be cheaper for the city to let the houses burn and then pay off the owner after the fact.

  • Charles Hueter||

    Perhaps if you where the owner of the private company that your scenario contained no other information.

    Now, substitute someone else's values and sense of risk-taking into the scenario. Maybe they can tolerate $100,000 of distributed expense per covered structure as long as profit exceeds X%. Expand the assumption that the overall economy is freer than it is now. Then flesh the scenario out:

    - construction and labor expenses may not be as costly as they are today...dropping both the fixed and recurring costs for the structure and the service delivery
    - tiered prices for basic residential and commercial fire-extinguishing service...allows more people to buy in
    - service denial for those who do not take prudent precautions (up-to-date home extinguishers, fire alarms, etc.)...reduces company exposure

    Then toss in the potential for innovation such as networked sensors revealing actual neighborhood conditions so the company can align fire-fighting assets with the emergency and I don't think your bleak hypothetical is a given necessity.

  • ||

    Where I live our fire trucks and fire stations are financed with taxes while the firefighters are volunteers. No shakedowns here.

  • dennis||

    As an anarchist I say everything. But I would argue that in general the best way for this to occur is for the government to open itself up to competition, be outperformed and withdraw from the field. Phony privatization where the state basically hands over management of its monopoly to some favored contractor really isn't privatization.

  • darjen||

    same here. I buy into the whole anarcho-capitalism. hell, any anarch-ism would be better as long as it's completely voluntary.

  • ||

    Whenever any discussion of "privatization" comes up I see a lot of confusion between real privatization and contracting out.

    Roads and bridges throughout the United States and Canada are designed by private engineering consultants and built by private contractors and have been sice the beginning but this is still not in any meaningful way "privatization". The decisions about locating and financing such facilities are made by political entities and almost completely indepentally of any market realities. And the ownership of those facilities still resides with the State.

    Even the tollroads that have been "privatized" have only really been turned over to private companies for long-term management contracts with all kinds of restrictions and mandates. The roads are still where the political masters have declared them to be.

    Where I live the county operates a landfill and transfer stations but contracts the pickup and haulage of garbage to private contractors. I get to pay taxes to have a designated franchisee pick up my refuse on days that they specify. This, I understand is common practice across the country and probably leads to many economies, as well as dealing with some rather vexing public health issues that can be a challenge otherwise, but it is hardly private trash collection in any meaningful sense of the word private.

    And I have not even touched on the issue of "privatized" prisons.

    There are many governmental functions and services that can be performed or provided more economically and efficiently through contracting out.

    But something is not privatized until it is totally removed from the political realm and is no longer considered a government function.

    In the end it is in the determining of the line between government function and private activity that the libertarian and the statist have the dispute.

  • ||

    dennis, in his brief post at 3:26PM, said much of what I said in my magnum opus above.

    I was unable to see it until I had finished.

  • ||

    The city of Sparks, Nevada did a study. They have a fire department with a union, with all kinds of rules and pay.

    Anyways the result of the study was that it would be cheaper to not have any fire department, to let any building that caught fire burn to the ground and pay to rebuild it.

    The most recent building fire in Sparks Nevada that i know of was a fire a few blocks from the fire department. It was an easy fire to put out, and it wasn't the building burned to the ground.

    City council people that I know said that the fire department let it burn to prove a point, that they need to pay more man hours, and they need more money generally.

    I don't see any reason in the world why a city fire department would be more honest than a private fire department.
    Quite the opposite.

  • skeptic||

    I would subcontract out park maintenance and municipal vehicle pools. Ill bet you could get a fairly decent savings by leasing vehicles in a competitive market over owning them.

  • Galen||

    Is anyone besides me concerned that, while privatization and competition provides the most efficient serivice delivery, it restricts access for the poor?

    I.e. if you privatize a municipal service, and I can't afford the market price, I am denied that service altogether. E.g. waste removal?

  • darjen||

    it doesn't restrict access for the poor. it makes it more affordable for everyone. and there would be less poor people to begin with.

  • Lee Powers||

    1. Everybody who needs waste removal already pays for it.
    2. Very few people cannot afford the prices set by their local waste removal monopoly.
    3. By opening the waste removal market to multiple competitors the price will go down.
    4. Many who cannot currently afford waste removal will now have access, thanks to lower prices.
    5. Those who already pay for waste removal will now pay less.

  • Galen||

    1. People currently (at least in my country) pay for it through taxes - i.e. they pay in relation to their income.

    2. This is a difficult point to argue. What if 3 families in the municipality cannot afford? Should we deny them access to waste removal to bring the prices down for everyone else? There is a utilitarian argument lurking here. What would you say to those 3 families?

    Also on this point, you may be correct about broad affordability in your area. But in my city (Cape Town), most families are very poor and would certainly not be able to afford (or would have more pressing needs than to pay for) waste removal. So should we hold off the privatization until my city becomes wealthier? Is libertarianism only for wealthier countries?

    3. Agreed, price expected to fall with competition. But there's no guarantee to what extent it would fall and over what time period.

    4. Everyone has access to waste removal currently - taxpayers fund waste removal for the whole city.

    5. Agreed, in principle at least.

  • ||

    It's a dumb question. Government is government, whether it's done directly or via contractors. There is nothing libertarian about privitization. You can be pro-big-government and support privitization if you think it will make big government work better (and thus help it get even bigger).

  • Lee Powers||

    Any increase in privatization must be matched with a decrease in taxation. After all, if the local fire department is privatized but my property taxes remain the same I'm essentially paying twice - first for income that the state no longer needs and then out of pocket for essential services.

    Of course I'm sure local governments will have no problem expanding our needs to soak up all that extra revenue . . .

  • ||

    Regarding Fire Departments: Some folks here seem to have a basic misunderstanding of the purpose of Fire Departments. The firefighters show up to save your neighbors' houses not yours. If you house is on fire more than you can put out yourself, it is already gone. If it doesn't burn down, the bajillion gallons of water poured onto it to put out the fire will destroy it just as well. The house that's burning is toast, the firefighters are there to prevent the fire spreading and the town burning down.

  • ||

    I'd love to see public transportation privatized. In Seattle, we have bus drivers making close to $30 per hour while the King County Metro goes $100 million in the hole. That is pathetic. On transportation, I'd also love to see highways and roads privatized.

    On a much larger scale, I'd love to see the USPS abolished. There isn't any reason why UPS, FedEx, or some other company can't deliver the mail.

  • A Republican||

    Working from Hobbes and Locke's political theories (which are the basis for a lot of our popular founding documents, among other things), I'd sort each service as follows:

    Anything involving the legitimate use of violence, such as the military and the police, and possibly the FBI and CIA, should remain public. Government is supposed to be a watchdog, and to monopolize violence in order to keep us out of the anarchic war of all against all which inevitably accompanies a state of anarchy--a condition which otherwise makes our lives solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Private corporations and individuals should continue to be allowed to hire additional security for themselves if they so desire, but these security firms should continue to be held to the same laws of conduct they are now.

    Certain services that can be purchased much less expensively when bought "in bulk" or collectively--such as fire departments, road paving, certain utilities, and garbage disposal services--should be contracted out to private companies. Since the prices would be much higher for individuals if every last one of them had to negotiate an individual contract with these companies, tax dollars spent to negotiate a collective contract instead are money well spent and a good value for the taxpayers. The actual services should remain in the hands of free enterprise, as they do not have anything to do with the government's primary duty to monopolize violence.

    All else should be entirely privatized and left to the free market. Providers of medicine, education, religious indoctrination, news, internet services, and entertainment should all be free to set their own prices and to succeed or fail on their own merits. Government has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it cannot possibly get us a better deal collectively purchasing any of these things for us, and they have nothing to do with its necessary monopolization of violence.

  • Caleb||

    How many services _can't_ be purchased less expensively when bought in bulk? I don't think this is a good argument for keeping them public but contracting them out. I think the fact that the contractor wont have to face competition will ultimately outweigh the bulk discount rate, making it a worse deal for everyone.

  • A Republican||

    The vast majority of services are actually cheaper when purchased individually. Getting the roads paved is cheaper in bulk, but the actual transport on those roads is a much better deal for everyone when the market gets to decide which parts of that pavement are good for mass transit and which are better suited to individuals in their cars. Private schools, expensive as they are, are actually far less expensive than public schools and would be even less expensive and more affordable if their public "competition" were privatized and the money currently dumped down those government school rat holes were no longer extorted from the children's parents via property taxes. (Of course, liberalization of laws to permit for more homeschooling would also provide even more competition, forcing the price even lower.)

    For the few services that are cheaper when bought in bulk, a city's freely purchased contract is still the free market at work. To keep the contractor honest, these contracts should always have term limits and breach-of-contract clauses allowing the city to take its business elsewhere if the contractor is doing a shoddy job or failing to deliver the goods. (This is already a fairly standard practice with many big corporations.) Keeping the city's options open ensures that the contractor will have to face competition, thus preventing corporatization (evil twin to the evil of nationalization) from degrading the service as you fear.

  • anonymous||

    "Privatization" doesn't necessarily mean turning things over to for-profit businesses, FWIW. It also applies to any sort of voluntary mutual aid society, charity, communal work group (co-op farms, neighborhood watch, etc.) or whatever.

    Main problem is that nothing works perfectly or catches every problem, so people (read: government addicts) will sacrifice a private sector solution that is reasonably decent in practice for a government solution that is more thorough and perfect in principle, even if it is worse in practice.

  • ||

    Private fire protection has been tried many times throughout modern history. More than 100 years ago in England there were fire fighting units maintained by the various insurance companies. The main problem, especially in densely populated urban areas, is that fires were only fought in the buildings of paying customers. There was a metal shield affixed to the building that the fire company would see upon their arrival. No sign=no help. It was deemed not only safer for the citizens, but also cheaper and much more efficient to have municipal fire departments. City run fire departments have been shown to be even cheaper than volunteer departments.

  • Patriot Henry||

    "Open Thread: What Municipal Services Should Be Privatized?"

    The real question is "What municipal services shall we enslave our fellow men for?"

  • cheese||

    That, or make them pay taxes for.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement