There is some discussion these days about the concept of privatizing government services. Government at all levels has grown too large. While never recognized as efficient, the bloated public sector has taken ineffective inefficiency to new heights of incompetency. Added to the many failures to perform are the spiraling costs associated with the government’s involvement in so many aspects of our lives. Privatization, therefore, has emerged from the closets and cloakrooms of power and is now considered a potential option for governments and taxpayers under siege. Hold your horses! Privatization as envisioned by some governmental entities is not the perfect answer. As a disciple of free market capitalism, I tremble as I make this assertion.
Do you have cable television service? Are you generally pleased with it, or are there times when you would rather go back to the forty-foot antenna with limited channels? Your cable provider usually is a private company, but they have a monopoly to provide the service within the jurisdiction of the entity who issues the contract. In other words, cable may be available from a private enterprise, but its monopolistic nature causes it to resemble a government agency in many respects. Some localities have similar arrangements for a number of other services such as water and sewer. Some states and local governments have contracted with private sector companies for the operation of jails or prisons. While personally I find these arrangements are better for the taxpayer than totally-run government agencies, they do not provide the greater level of savings that a truly competitive situation might.
Your cable company may be more responsive to your concerns than a wholly-owned government enterprise because they may be fearful about losing the contract, but their responsiveness may be merely incrementally better. If there were a private competitor who could assure you that they would provide quicker service and more channels at a similar cost, then you might change providers immediately. You would not be forced to wait until city council became dramatically disgruntled or sought a more lucrative kick-back package. Your choices, your desires are limited by the governmental unit’s deciding what is best for you and your neighbors…or for the politicians who make the decisions. So, I would argue that a private government endorsed monopoly may be marginally better than a government-run service, but falls short of the cost savings and benefits of a fully competitive environment. In addition there is the added factor of the Nanny city, the Nanny township, the Nanny county, the Nanny state, or BIG NANNY arbitrarily limiting your choices. True competition is an economic issue, but it is more fundamentally an issue of freedom.
Every act that permits government intrusion into our lives generates a further erosion of our liberty. Yes, it is important that we encourage and enable the private sector in areas that have been monopolized by government, but the true issue is liberty. If we turn over services and functions merely to save money or enhance service, we have some short-term gain to celebrate. If, however, we recapture our ability to choose for ourselves the service provider to use, then we have solidified our quest for freedom. Tiny steps, I know, but little victories can pave the way for larger accomplishments. Freedom can be regained by working from the “bottom up.” It is much easier to marshal support at the local level than it is to generate a broad-based statewide or national movement.
When you began to read this column, you probably had no inkling that cable television services and liberty would be linked without using the term “net neutrality.” My purpose was to illustrate that our freedoms have been usurped at every level of government. We should remember, however, that our Constitution specifically limits federal involvement in our daily affairs, and state and local oversights are to be decided by the citizens. The federal overreach has far exceeded its constitutional mandate, and state and local interventions have limited our liberty dramatically. It is time to return government to its designated role. It is time for the people to stand up, stand tall and stand firm for freedom.
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