Doing public ownership: Centralisation, decentralisation, bureaucracy and control.

Author:Hobbs, Cat

Thomas Hanna gives a whirlwind tour to paint a picture of viable, successful public ownership across the world. He highlights that publicly owned companies control roughly 75 per cent of all oil worldwide, while there are many successful publicly owned airlines in the Middle East. Public banking ranges from the pioneering Banco Popular in Costa Rica to the many hundreds of public banks across Europe.

In the UK, we can sometimes assume that the US has gone even further than ourselves down the track of neoliberal ideology. In fact, public ownership is 'much more common that most people understand' in the US which is 'often considered the beating heart of free-wheeling, no-holds-barred market capitalism'. As Hanna says, 'the United States is grossly underexplored in the modern literature and politics around public ownership'. He tackles the long history of public ownership, including the 100 year old publicly owned Bank of North Dakota, and the demands of the Public Ownership Party and the Public Ownership League of America in the early twentieth century.

Public ownership of energy as well as water is often standard in the US--highlighting just how extreme and exceptional the UK is, where we have to make the case for utilities owned by us. In Nebraska, every citizen gets their energy from a public or cooperative provider while the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provides energy to nine million people. Astonishingly, Obama threatened the TVA with privatisation and it was defended and kept in public ownership by Republicans!

Turning to water, 84 per cent of the US population is served by publicly owned systems at the local, municipal level. As We Own It launches our 'SplashMob' campaign for public ownership of water in England, it's exciting to feel a sense of solidarity across the Atlantic with the Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW), who have succeeded in their campaign against private water company Aqua America.

In Vermont 'it is highly likely that the typical Burlington resident encounters and interacts with public ownership many times each day'--with energy, airport, library, transport, waste, schools, parks and community centres as well as the marketplace, some housing provision and land being owned by the public.

While the examples of public ownership being delivered and defended across the US are exciting, in some ways, of course, the US compares poorly to the UK. Hanna highlights the inefficiencies of privately operated toll roads...

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