A popular criticism of socialism is that it relies on the finite source of 'other people's money'. Yet today we can easily reverse this, and accuse neo-liberals of selling off what does not belong to them, but to us all, and degrading civic values, both of which are just as finite as money, through their insatiable need to privatise public assets, and their obsession with 'choice' and 'competition'. I write this having recently been given an advert for a new NHS hospital in my area. Clearly recent Coalition emphasis on 'competition' in the NHS has induced the apparent for a hospital to sell itself, no doubt to attract private funding. The NHS is an incomplete example as it will still be free at the point of use, yet the introduction and celebration of private sector competition on the part of Andrew Lansley suggests the health service has started on the road to some form of privatisation. Moreover, the NHS is a popular state body and, unlike many, people are, more or less, happy to pay taxes to uphold it, so, even from the government's viewpoint, such policies are politically dangerous, especially given the furore over the forests earlier in the year, whilst similar policies, such as in education focus on private provision, essentially, 'privatisation lite'. There can thus be no greater illustration of the government's motivation to privatise; ideology. Just as it has always been since the 1980s, state assets will be sold off religiously, while private sector vultures are given first pickings at the weaker limbs of public bodies.
There are both practical and moral arguments at hand;
Firstly, such policies are hardly proven successes. Major's privatisation of the railways in the 1990s has merely created inefficient, overpriced services that have put many people off public transport and back onto roads, creating more congestion and pollution. With price rises of up to 12% in places, contractors now demand even more money from the public, despite falling efficiency, for a service that should be accountable to them. Private healthcare in the US has created a huge economic problem as many corporations are crippled by hefty insurance payments. Furthermore, a great deal of covert privatisation has occurred in recent decades, such as over CRB checking, which costs the police £60 simply to 'check' the forms, that could, and should, be done by the services themselves. Contrary to its supporters' claims, privatisation has hardly promoted a sense of economic efficiency.
Equally, there are severe moral issues relating to such agendas. We were all shocked by the inhumane treatment of patients at private care homes, and this is a more obvious expression of the problem with putting profit above people in the public sector, where money is not so much of an issue. Yet, in a general sense, private involvement is alien to the very nature of the state. By law, companies must do all they can to pursue greater profits for their shareholders, whereas the state must protect and provide for its citizens, with notably less importance placed on monetary matters.
This conflict cannot be resolved as it was not meant to. By privatising, we simply devolve all the joys and nobilities of our existence into marketing tools, convert our children into economic units
and cast off our vulnerable brethren into the uncertain seas of the free market. Despite the association with liberalism such policies are also less democratic as they reduce accountability. Only the wealthy can truly influence the provision of private services, whilst all voters can manipulate that of public service.
Private involvement was always beneficial where commodities and luxuries were concerned, providing a self-regulating system of incentives. Yet where the very character of our lives are at stake, their involvement should not be welcomed. Like everything in politics, the solution lies in a compromise. Let the democratic accountability of the state control areas such as health, transport, education, areas that affect us all and to each of which, we are born with a fundamental right to. Then we can watch as the limitless possibilities for human life that capitalism can create, colour the very fabric of existence.