The list of privatization/deregulation failure is long. Health care, the airlines, military contractors, school choice, prisons, utilities, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, railroads, and on and on. The push for privatization is merely private industry taking the good paying jobs from unionized workers, replacing them with less-skilled and cheaper help, and rerouting the bounty from the productivity into the pockets of the well-to-do executives. It's government getting another department off the books. So when the rates rise and the service stinks, it's not governments fault, it's the market at work.
If the bailouts and overall dismal performance of the last 8 years should teach us anything, it's that markets do not always work efficiently, and the private sector is no better than the public sector.
The services we all enjoy cost money. There is no free lunch. As noted in earlier blogs, the reason we keep having these arguments and discussing selling off public entities is because many among us, the uber rich and the corporate sector, do not pay their fair share (here and here) in taxes.
The Journal- Sentinel has reported on Wally Morics's, Milwaukee's comptroller, idea to consider privatizing the city's Water Works. Their own concerns with such an endeavor are that there could be rate increases and there could be a foreign owner controlling our water. Both excellent points. An editorial from the previous day's paper raised some issues with the idea, but ultimately feels the idea "deserves a thorough vetting."
Some things are not meant to be run by a private, for-profit business. Especially local infrastructure.
Better ideas for capturing more funds for the city are (as also mentioned in the Journal-Sentinel article) getting our fair share from state shared revenue and from federal sources available. Also, the sales tax, as used to support Miller Park. If we can impose such for a baseball stadium, we can do the same for parks, light rail, etc. [The City itself doesn't impose such a tax at this time. But there is obviously some way to move such an idea forward.]
Another factor to keep in mind -- these are union workers at the Water Works. These are good jobs with decent pay and benefits. These workers spend and contribute to the local economy.
Economic development is supposedly all about attracting good jobs and increasing the tax base, yet a transfer of the Water Works to a multinational would undoubtedly undercut the unionized labor force and transfer most of the income out of the area (since it would no longer be locally owned). Workers with good paying jobs are what makes our restaurants, theaters, pubs, boutiques, and all of the other wonderful attractions in our city possible. Without the leisure spending these types of good jobs allow, our city would be a ghost town.
Let's stop selling off the commons we share among us, the things we call public goods. Each time we do, we end up paying more, the amenity is usually run down to the point of dilapidation and the private owner begins asking the public to subsidize the repairs. There are many examples of privatization schemes all around the country. The majority are failures. Let's just tell the privatizers to pay their fair share of taxes instead. But as far as privatizing our Water Works, "Thanks, but no thanks!"
For Further Reading:
Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water
Food & Water Watch
Great Lakes Water Wars
New Economy of Water
Overview of Water Privatization
Perils of Privatization
Privatization is no Panacea
Profits, Profits Everywhere - And Soon Not A Drop To Drink
Seven Myths of Water Privatization
The UK's Railway Privatization
The Water Privateers
Water as a Human Right