"There are a whole range of government services that could be privatized, and the arguments are different for each of them. Cost and efficiency are not the only criteria -- there are also matters of control, of fairness, of the function of government to act as a redistribution system, and of the role of these serves as the glue which holds the commonwealth together.all good points - but we need to acknowledge that publicprovision=good argument is invalid for a number of reasons. firstly, we have the efficiency argument - and secondly, we have the corruption argument.
Water seems to me like one of the things you would least want to privatize. It's a natural resource that belongs to everyone -- and is also needed by everyone. The poor are as dependent on it as the rich, and lack of safe water leads to disease, which again affects everyone. The very idea that somebody ought to make a profit off it -- and be able to turn off the tap for non-payment -- is morally offensive.
Natural monopolies or near-monopolies, like roads and railroad lines and (until recently) phone service, are also problematic in varying degrees, in part because the proprietors are being granted an exclusive license and in part because the public has no good alternatives. I'm especially concerned by the move towards private toll roads -- there's one current case where the state government has had to promise not to upgrade the public secondary roads nearby for the next 10 or 15 years.
Non-monopolistic provision of social services -- where competition keeps the providers small, honest, and eager to prove themselves -- may be the one area where private really can be better.
Another factor to consider is whether the private company is being paid by the government or by the citizens. Despite the threat of corruption, the former has definite advantages, since the government has far more clout than private citizens to enforce rates and standards, not to mention public health and national security concerns.
There's also the issue of redistribution. Contrary to what the libertarians like to claim, the earliest governments were *not* created to protect private property through police and military power, but rather to maintain public infrastructure (notably irrigation systems) and to ensure that wealth and essential goods didn't accumulate in the hands of a few. At the chiefdom level, redistribution was accomplished informally through cultural institutions like gift-exchange systems and potlatches. But the first civilized states were overwhelmingly involved in large-scale collecting, storing, and doling out of food supplies -- just think about setup assumed by the story of Joseph and pharaoh and the seven lean years.
Perhaps the most frightening examples of privatization are those, like water and toll roads, which place the poorest among us at the mercy of for-profit corporations with no incentive to provide for their well-being or make their lives more sustainable. But any change which reduces public accountability and restricts people's sense of acting together for their mutual benefit chips away at the concept of citizenship and unravels the fabric of society itself.
i dont doubt for a minute that water should be delivered really really well, and cheaply, and cleanly.
the only question is 'how?'