How to Privatize
I’d love to reclaim the word “privatization” for a scenario in which the government actually privatizes something.
City governments, for example, often find themselves owning vacant properties whose owners haven’t paid taxes on them. The city could take advantage of its ownership of said properties by operating them as publicly owned rental housing. But a more common solution is to privatize city owned housing stock by selling it in the marketplace. By the same token, the British government used to own British Airlines but privatized it by selling the company in the marketplace. The French state, by contrast, continues to own a very large share of the European Aerospace Defense Company but could in the future choose to privatize its stake in EADS. In this view, the way you would privatize a government owned prison is you close the prison and sell the land to private party.
“The one thing the companies that make up the prison-industrial complex — companies like Community Education or the private-prison giant Corrections Corporation of America — are definitely not doing is competing in a free market,” Krugman says “they are, instead, living off government contracts.”
That’s exactly right and the difference is that nothing has been privatized in “prison privatization.”
Yes. The way to privatize prisons is to lock up fewer people, then sell off the buildings — without selling off the privilege of locking people up.
Look, I know that letting go of government power can sometimes be difficult. But this isn’t one of those times.
There used to be a word for contracting out the use of government force. That word was feudalism. And there used to be a political faction dedicated to stamping out the remaining traces of feudalism. They were known as the liberals. It would do much for our clarity of thought simply to employ these more accurate terms.
On that note, let me propose some liberal guidelines for how to let go of government power:
- Keep the number of coercive actors small.
- Do not use markets to incentivize more or more effective coercion. The whole reason we make a monopoly of coercion is because we want less of it.
- Do not create different legal regimes, or different sets of permitted actions, for one group and not another.
- When it comes time to surrender government property, disperse it rather than concentrating it.
I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.