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“It’s not privatization per se, but free competition through voluntary exchange, that is desirable. It matters little whether the government calls people who perform its functions public employees or private contractors. When a company becomes a monopoly government contractor, to that extent it is an arm of the state rather than a private firm. For that reason such ersatz ‘privatization᾿ devices as contracting out the operation of prisons and charter schools merely blur the line between ‘private’ and ‘public’ sector – in the nature of corporatism – and undermine the case for the genuine divestiture of stateheld assets. . . .
“Since government possession of state assets originated in one form of usurpation or another, the requirement that they be bought back is unjust. It may be argued that the revenue could be used to benefit the general public . . . but political incentives tend to work in the other direction. Politicians will see the new revenue as an opportunity to launch new programs that offer benefits to well-organized interest groups. . .
“Better, then, that state assets be seen as existing in a state of nonownership . . . and opened to homesteading . . . . Government elementary and secondary schools could be turned over to the people who work in them or the students’ parents, or both groups, who would be free to decide how to run them — without tax money. A government university could become the property of its students, members of its faculty and staff, or both. Some schools might organize as joint stock companies with tradable shares, while others might become consumer or producer coöperatives. Competition would determine which forms best satisfied consumers and attracted capable producers . . . .
“From State to Society” was originally published online on October 1, 2012, as the lead essay of a month-long Cato Unbound symposium on “How and How Not to Privatize,” together with fellow participants Leonard Gilroy, Dru Stevenson, and Randal O’Toole.
Sheldon Richman is a contemporary left-libertarian writer, speaker, and editor of the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Future of Freedom, currently living near Little Rock, Arkansas. Richman also spent over a decade as editor of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, from the late 1990s to 2012; during his tenure the magazine became one of the most important print outlets for left-wing market anarchist writing, publishing key essays by writers such as Kevin Carson, Joseph Stromberg, and Charles Johnson, as well as many important articles from his own pen.