Privatization at Cato Unbound

Longtime Freeman editor Sheldon Richman leads this month’s Cato Unbound with a look at privatization – the transfer of assets and responsibilities from the government to private holders.

In the first part of his essay, Richman explains why we should want such a thing. As he points out, there are solid economic reasons to expect that governments will be worse than private actors at providing many different types of goods and services.

But how do you actually let go? Richman argues for a fairly absolutist position; for him, vouchers, charters, and contracting with private firms are no proper solution. “[W]hen a company becomes a monopoly government contractor,” he writes, “to that extent it is an arm of the state rather than a private firm.” When privatization ends here, things have not improved at all, and even the word “privatization” is misleading. Worse, whole swathes of the government’s work shouldn’t be done by anyone. We don’t make the war on drugs any better by putting it in the hands of a private contractor.

Is he right? Over the next week, we’ll have a series of response essays from Leonard Gilroy, Director of Government Reform at the Reason Foundation; Dru Stevenson, Professor of Law and the Helen and Harry Hutchins Research Professor at the Southern Texas College of Law; and Cato Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole.

Readers are encouraged to take up our themes and enter into the conversation on their own websites and blogs, or on other venues. We also welcome letters. Send them to jkuznicki at cato dot org. Selections may be published at the editors’ option.