Why I Loathe Privatization

That’s right: loathe. I loathe to read news reports about privatization and the bills that are introduced to privatize more sectors and tasks the governments of the world have wrested from our rightful patrimony. Oh, how visceral my reaction has become to the word privatization!

Wait a minute…

Why—I trust you are asking yourself—would a philosophical anarchist, whose political philosophy is based on self-ownership and private property as its logical extension, be opposed to privatization? Do not private property and privatization share the same state of being? You are perceptive. In short, I am in favor of true privatization; similarly, I am opposed vehemently to what every politician, almost every news outlet, and most people call “privatization.” Let me explain.

In the ownership of property, let us consider two possibilities. (There are more than two possibilities, but I mean to simplify this explanation, allowing you to extrapolate to other situations.) The road to my house may be owned either by me—because I have traded for or homesteaded it—or by everybody in the surrounding geographical region—because we all are taxed for its construction and upkeep.

  1. If I own the road, it is privatized—truly privatized—and I have the natural right to decide how and for what it can be used by whom. I can allow sick children to fry eggs on it on a hot day; I can charge skateboarders to build ramps on it for their enjoyment; I can build a fence around it and admire it as a monument to my greatness; I can do anything with it, including nothing. (I have the right to do so; the moral uses of this road may prompt me to do otherwise, but nobody has the right to force me to use it ni any manner.)

  2. If everyone owns the road via taxation, it is not privatized; rather, it is owned communally. Someone—perhaps myself, perhaps another person, perhaps a committee of persons—is given stewardship to decide for what and how it can be used by whom. We see this around the world, for example, with public roads: everybody is taxed for their construction and upkeep, and politicians are given stewardship over their use, from driving to cycling to pedestrian crossing to parking to parades to block parties.

True privatization of a communally owned road would involve the transfer from stewardship to ownership. The steward would donate or sell the road as he or she sees fit. Let us say, in this example, I have purchased the road to my house from the steward, thus transferring from situation #2 to #1 above.

The more commonly practiced form of privatization—the one championed by politicians, described by most news outlets, and called to mind by most people—does not follow the aforementioned example. Rather, the steward maintains control and the taxpayers maintain ownership over the property, and the individual or corporation leases or is given temporary, secondary stewardship over the property. In the case of false privatization, the politicians, in effect, hire people to do their dirty work. This is why the word privatization is so tainted in my mind.

Let us see how this false privatization works in reality. Many localities offer waste (trash, garbage) pickup, which in most instances is “privatized.” The municipal government maintains stewardship over the waste pickup, leasing the collection of waste, the charging of customers, and the other duties of the business to an otherwise private individual or corporation. In such a situation, the “private” individual or corporation is hired to do the work the politician-steward finds too expensive, too politically dangerous, or impracticable for him- or herself to fulfill. This is but one example of common false privatization; a few other examples include the distribution of utilities such as water and electricity, the maintenance and management of parking meters, the maintenance and guards for prisons, and the execution of certain military operations.

This false privatization is so beloved by politicians because it allows them to claim to have done more than they actually do. For the cost of drawing up a contract (and sometimes even the revenue of selling the privilege), a politician can claim waste collection, utilities, parking meters, and every other “privatized” benefit under his or her accomplishments. What a public-relations boon to the politician! All for getting someone else to do the dirty work.

I wish the true nature of privatization were better understood (hence this post) and executed writ large until every person were his or her own owner and every property would revert to the status of private or unclaimed. I wish the false notion of privatization were consigned to the dustbin of history as the political trick it is. Then we can finally be rid of the state and the leech on individuals and society that it is. Escrasez l’etat!