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6 Things That Should Never Be Privatized

These essentials need to remain in the public sector.

The idea behind operating gas, water or electric services as public utilities is that those things are important to people’s health and survival and therefore, must be protected from corporate greed. Some things belong in the private sector, others don’t.

Here are six things in the United States that should remain in the public sector.

1. Running Water

In 2000, residents of Cochabamba (Bolivia’s third largest city) suffered enormous hardship when the city’s public water utility SEMAPA was sold and taken over by the private consortium Aguas del Tunari: prices doubled or tripled, service was shut off for those who couldn’t afford the higher rates, and many cochabambinos suddenly found themselves without running water in their homes. Civil unrest and huge demonstrations followed, and a general strike shut the city down for four days.

But eventually, after many violent clashes between protestors and Bolivian riot police, water went back to being a public utility in Cochabamba, and the Aguas del Tunari contract was canceled. In fact, leftist Evo Morales’ strong opposition to water privatization and support of the  Cochabamba Water Revolt is one of the things that led to his presidential victory in Bolivia’s 2005 election. But in the U.S., Americans are still learning the hard way that privatizing running water is a terrible idea.

In 2012,  Eleanor Sochanski, a 91-year-old resident of Camden, NJ, suddenly received a bill from United Water for $2,167 after averaging quarterly bills of $50-$60—and even though the private company couldn’t explain the bill and no leaks were found, it placed a lien on Sochanski’s home. Similarly, California-American Water couldn’t explain the $9,800 bill Toni Ray of Carmel Valley, CA suddenly received after having averaged bills of around $40 a month in her home. And Middletown, NJ resident Joe Pezzano was shocked to discover that New Jersey American Water Co. (another private company) had shut off his water entirely because of an overdue balance of 84 cents. If this type of insanity continues, Americans may need a Cochabamba Water Revolt of their own.

2. Prisons

Justice, at least in theory, is supposed to be blind. But when corporate greed is involved, it can become very biased in favor of incarcerating people. The United States incarcerates, per capita, more people than any other country in the world, including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the People’s Republic of China. While the vast majority of incarcerated Americans are held in government-owned prisons and jails, the growth of privately owned prisons is a disturbing and dangerous trend because the profit motive encourages more arrests, more prosecutions and more convictions.

In a 2011 study, the American Civil Liberties Union reported: “Private prisons for adults were virtually non-existent until the early 1980s, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by approximately 1600% between 1990 and 2009. Today, for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government.”

The ACLU also reported that private prisons in the U.S. were more likely to have poorly trained and underpaid staff, unsanitary conditions and “a heightened level of violence against prisoners.” And the ACLU noted that when the largest private prison company in the U.S., the Corrections Corporation of America, filed an annual report with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010, it admitted that its business model depends on high rates of incarceration, saying, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

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