Cars and water show the old order is dying

“Private sector good, public sector bad” was the endless mantra chanted by those who fomented, and then imposed, the Thatcher-Reagan revolution of the 1980s. Everything, from water companies to forensic science was to be sold off to wheeler-dealer buccaneering venture capitalists, whose grace would confer the blessings of efficiency and freedom on moribund institutions. Or so it was alleged; they never talked of privatising their armed forces, for some reason.

Forty years on the bill for these follies is starting to come in. Take water privatisation in England as an example. Since 1989 the new private owners have extracted £72 billion in profits, while the industry suffers a dreadful reputation on pollution, failure to control leaks, shortages, and inability to invest (we haven’t had a single new reservoir in thirty years) Writing in the Conversation Kate Bayliss makes a powerful case for public ownership of a common public good. [1]

Our people are in cars-if you’re on public transport after the age of twenty five, you’re a failure” Maybe Mrs Thatcher didn’t say those exact words all together in that order, but they authentically captured the spirit of the 1980’s and her philosophy, disguising a new hierarchy of wealth under a cloak of liberty. Maybe cars do bring a bit more mobility, and help with the shopping. They also bring the opportunity for excess of narcissism, rage, accidents and pollution. Is their age passing too? John Vidal makes a powerful case in the Guardian [2]

We won’t indulge here in rather hackneyed cliches about shifting tectonic plates, paradigms and new orders. But we will observe that saying of James Russell Lowell “Time makes ancient good uncouth.” The trick is to learn to let go gracefully, and look for new ways of doing old things.



#water #privatisation #public ownership #transport #pollution

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