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The tragedy of the private, the potential of the public

Communities around the world are defending public services, making them more democratic and responsive to the people's needs and desires, writes Hilary Wainwright in a new report.

June 19, 2014
3 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


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tragedy of the private 290From South Africa to Brazil, from Italy to the US, in Uruguay, Greece, Norway, the UK and in many other countries, municipal councils are taking services back under public control. Public Service workers and their fellow community members are not only defending public services but are also struggling to make them democratic and responsive to the people’s needs and desires.

This report co-published by Public Services International (PSI) and the Transnational Institute surveys anti-privatisation campaigns by PSI affiliates around the world.

Over the past 30 years, since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan gained office, it is clear that the problems the welfare state was designed to alleviate – hunger, disease, unemployment, poor living conditions – have thrived once again, as these dogmatically pro-market politicians drove the destruction of the model. In the case of too much of the Global South, their ideology contributed to blocking attempts to build public services where they are most needed.

It is now clear that public service managers and local politicians, those taking decisions on the front line of public services, are in practice rejecting the claims of private business and their political champions. They are asserting pragmatically an understanding of ‘efficiency’ that is based on a different logic from that of private commercial accounting. Instead it is grounded in an understanding of the distant concept of ‘public value’ – the meeting of social needs – as the central criteria for efficiency in the management of public services. This turning point is drawn from their everyday experience of the failure of services delivered by private business.

How can we strengthen this pragmatic – and still modest – turn away from privatisation, to challenge the national and international institutions that continue to drive outsourcing and impose it on an increasingly disaffected public? And how can this pragmatic rejection of the private market in the sphere of public goods become a source of energy and creativity, sparking a process of improving and expanding public services to meet the new needs and desires that have emerged in recent decades? These are the questions which this booklet seeks to answer:

The Tragedy of The Private, The Potential of The Public (pdf, 3.6MB)

We can offer free print copies to Friends of Red Pepper, just email jenny@redpepper.org.uk to arrange delivery.


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


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