Heartless, profit-driven corporations like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co., and Nestle have pledged to donate millions of water bottles to the people of Flint, Michigan. Meanwhile, government officials are still pointing fingers and trying to figure out which state or local agency screwed up and allowed city residents to consume toxic water for months.
According to The Atlantic's David Graham (emphasis mine):
That these firms are stepping up to deliver water is good news for Flint's schools and citizens in the immediate term. But a one-time infusion of gallons of fresh water doesn't do much to address the systemic failures of government that led to the water crisis in the first place. By making four for-profit corporations into a de facto public utility, the gift might actually risk making things worse in the long run.
Wait, what? How could the gift be a bad thing? Graham elaborates:
Walmart, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Pepsi aren't just charitable organizations that might have their own ideologies. They're for-profit companies. And by providing water to the public schools for the remainder of the year, the four companies have effectively supplanted the local water authorities and made themselves an indispensable public utility, but without any amount of public regulation or local accountability. Many people in Flint may want government to work better, but with sufficient donations, they may find that the private sector has supplanted many of government's functions altogether.
Let me get this straight: when corporations put profits first, they are accused of undermining social institutions with their greed—when they unquestionable put people first… they are also accused of undermining social institutions!
In any case, it's worth asking whether the private sector supplanting government functions is actually a bad thing. Despite what liberals like Dana Milbank and Katrina vanden Heuvel think, privatization and austerity are not the causes of the Flint water crisis: government mismanagement, regulatory failure, and Keynesian fiscal stimulus are. If the private sector can deliver affordable, clean water to Flint, why shouldn't people prefer it? Is government-managed delivery of public goods really an absolute moral necessity, even if the government is bad at delivering said public goods?