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Why Public Control of Infrastructure Matters


Why Public Control of Infrastructure Matters

Wenonah Hauter, Donald Cohen

We’ve all heard the statistics about our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and agree it needs to be fixed—the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates we need to invest $4 trillion in our infrastructure across the country. But what’s still up for debate is how improvements will be financed and who will be in control—the public, or corporations and big banks? It’s an important distinction—privatized infrastructure projects have a troubling track record.


It is important to understand that public infrastructure is real tangible property that belongs to ALL of us. Roads, bridges, water, public transit, public schools are as much your and my property as the chair I'm sitting in right now. When a politician takes such such property and resources is privatizes it it is robbery, plain and simple.


Exactly. And we need to name the beast. This is how capitalism works. By definition, it means the private control of wealth and investment for the benefit of those who "own" and control capital. The flip side is that those who own and control material wealth have control over much of what we call life. We need to stop fooling around with the myth of "democratic capitalism" and figure out nonviolent ways to bring the monster down as we create alternative human societies that benefit people and our Mother Earth.


There are many sorts of infrastructure, and sometimes people get confused about how best to manage any piece of it.

Consider the contrast between East and West Germany. Circa 1960 the two countries were roughly equivalent in economic standards. East Germany introduced the Trabant in that era, a two-cycle vehicle in which you had to periodically shake the car to ensure the fuel and oil were properly mixed. For the next 30 years East Germany put its priorities someplace else and the Trabant remained the automobile, and people had to wait months for delivery after ordering one. West Germany gave themselves a multitude of VWs, BMWs, Audis, Porsches, Opels and other cars. And better roads. And better customer service to auto buyers.
-- Worth remarking here that supposedly Ralph Nader said that one good thing the USSR did was to NOT put a car in every garage ...

The telephone network is 'infrastructure'. Most of it is privately owned and managed. Who thinks that WashDC could have provided us with 4G-LTE, now, if they had been tasked to manage our telephone system? We might not even have cellphones if it were up to them. And certainly that controversy about making Apple unlock the iPhones of the San Bernardino shooters would have never happened. There wouldn't have been any iPhones, and they wouldn't have been lockable.

Some issues are worth probing more deeply. Chicago and its parking meters? The starting point here is that Chicago mismanaged their finances, and needed/wanted money. They had an asset, the parking meters, and they sold it. We can say a few things. 1- Parking costs downtown had been too low. 2- Properly speaking those meters belonged, or should have belonged, to the neighborhoods, not to the city. 3- Chicago is still a financially mismanaged city. And dragging the whole state of Illinois down with it.

Another issue worth probing more deeply is the green opinion. There are quite a few greens on this forum who want to shut down that part of our electric power infrastructure that produces power with fossil fuel. Many of them would be happiest if we replaced that subtracted power-production with efficiency and simply not using energy.
-- In the same vein, those greens are rather happy that Flint MI is a smaller city than it used to be, that some of its streets are being reclaimed by the prairie. They would like to see more of that with other cities.


The idea that innovation in infrastructure relies on "free markets" is nonsense. Just compare the US "free market" based transportation and, in many areas, electric power infrastructure to that of Europe to see that. The US is third-world compared to them.

Obviously, some infrastructure is privately owned but must be, by the nature of the technology, a regional monopoly. Take the form of a government commission regulated regional monopoly like the old Bell System, which, yes, used cutting edge technology of the day and was cheap, reliable with impeccable service. Most countries including our neighbor to the north still use this model for public telecommunications and they hardly lack access to the latest smartphones - BUT the cost of the service is far cheaper. Oh, and the concept of anything except "net-neutrality" - the internet as an open common-carrier service - is inconceivable.

And most core technology development is government funded. Shockley's team at Bell Labs relied largely of government money to develop the transistor.


Assume or generalize much?


This is a very important subject and the authors have done a great job of explaining the issue. Accounting for public goods and polluting or overcharging the public is a department which requires a larger staff. The free market department is most helpful via price adjustments for market maintenance.

The only part which might be wrong is the matter of the corporates requiring the people to pay the full value of the contract and there being no way out except paying cash upfront for the contract's remaining years.

Bechtel Engineering tried this in Bolivia and Ecuador (excuse me if I name the wrong entities). There are reasons of imbalance between the bargaining parties which open these contracts to annulment which I am not qualified to explain in detail. Bechtel so far has not preveiled in court and many years have passed.


Yes, essentially this is the dodo of neoliberalism coming home to spread its wings and guano over the good old Homeland.


Federally we won't know what's behind closed doors or doors that the corporate media does not tell the public about.

It is all about the oligarchs owning it all and foreign oligarchs. Globalization to the max.


Let's see. Death over life, militarism over infrastructure, North Korea over South Korea. One million bucks for every American soldier stationed in the Middle East per year = approximately 15 teachers in public schools per year.
What a 'deal'.


To regain a right to own our infrastructure we MUST get out of the 1995 GATS agreement which has been forcing all public services to privatize "unless supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers."

This is a good link about the problem of trade deals on services stealing the entire worlds future for corporations irreversibly.

Food and Water Watch has also written about this.


Your statement was true until 1995 but on January 1, 1995 everything changed. Now governments cannot compete with private industry.

I:3 of the agreement states:
"For the purposes of this Agreement...
(b) 'services' includes any service in any sector except services supplied in the exercise of
governmental authority;
(c) 'a service supplied in the exercise of governmental authority' means any service which is supplied
neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers."


The problem with that is its too efficient, nobody can make a killing off of public ownership. You have to understand that a war has been going on by the global oligarchy - against the people of the planet for 20 years, its called the WTO, and its GATS agreement literally caused a major financial disaster and that was hushed up because this scheme is SO important to the corporate state.

Huge amounts of energy goes into keeping people like us ignorant.

This is a good overview of what I am talking about

This too


They systematically eliminated the entire New Deal. The reason they are not building infrastructure is because they dont want the people to realize all those jobs are going to go to the lowest bidders, likely engineering firms from other countries.. Mexico, India, etc. Whoever tenders the lowest bids. Healthcare and education too, eventually. Thats the real reason we cant have single payer.


This is one of the most sophomoric posts I have read on this site to date. It ought to be intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer of economic history, or even current events, that far too much of what was traditionally purely public owned and operated systems, ,operations and infrastructure, as well as land management, are being slowly but surely taken over by the private sector. This is tantamount to taking away the powers and property of the citizens, who are increasingly being put at the mercy of the extremely wealthy. It affects their daily life, standard of living and voice in government.

The purpose of privatization is to further consolidate wealth and power within the ranks of the power-elite. Much of this is a program of sabotage, destruction and reconstruction, with the rationale being lack of public funding, mismanagement or forced frustration. I do concede that certain times, government has been consistently ineffective in some endeavors. But, privatization ought not to be the knee-jerk response. Look what the ruling class had done to plunder public schools, utilities, infrastructure and the like. And, they are still foaming at the mouth in hopes of getting their hands on Social Security, the United States Post Office and other operations which they can "raid," monopolize or strip and gut.

Of course one can cherry-pick and thus put forth examples both pro and con; however, history shows that these sort of desperate, knee-jerk reactions tend to overwhelmingly benefit a few wealthy investors, at the expense of the masses.

At some point, substantially everything will all be directly owned and control by just a few large corporations; and, there will be a substantial diminished in the quality of life and political power of the masses.


Yes, privatize all our infrastructure by giving each citizen equal shares of stock in ALL publicly owned resources and equal dividends from whatever rents we the people decide is fair by periodic referendum.

The public is private.

Direct Democracy