Today, we're facing moves towards privatization of public systems and opposition to new projects under public management. It's sad, especially when you see examples such as scientific studies showing that Canada's single payer health care system provides similar care to that in the US at a far lower cost per capita.
Perhaps, even sadder: The Boston Globe published an article the other day about a debate over whether a city-wide service for Boston should be publicly or privately run. The debate was over Boston's municipal water system - and it took place between the 1820's and 1840's. That's right, the forces pushing for privately-owned general services for the entire citizenry have been going on for 200 years.
Nothing will stop them. The fact that the businessmen wanting to own Boston's water supply and use a privately owned pond which was shown to be inadequate won't deter them. They'll tell you businesses can run things better than government - no matter how many times big business has crashed the economy in the last 200 years. The fact that there's only one company that was used in the Dow Jones index from the beginning and is still included - all the rest are either out of business or less significant - won't make them change their tune. No number of Enrons or Bernie Madoff's will make them admit we can't rely too much on private businesses.
But as the Globe article says, it's more than just accounting that should guide our decision. It's also a matter of what kind of society we want to be. Do we want services for citizens to have decision made by a board of a handful of profit-hungry businessmen, or do we want them entirely and directly under the control of officials chosen by the entire electorate? Do we want our services sold at the highest price the market will tolerate, or at rates a non-profit system can provide? Do we want everyone to pay the same price - so it's a greater burden on the poor than the rich - or do we want it paid for at least partly using progressive taxation? Do we want to live under a code of conduct in which members of society help each other, or do we want to promote a society where everyone is trying to make off with as much as they can from everyone else?
We can live in a dog-eat-dog world in which a significant part of society's resources is wasted on fighting between the "dogs". Or we can have a more cooperative society where those resources are used to make life better for everyone.