The political economy of public ownership: Inspiring lessons from the United States.

Author:Kishimoto, Satoko

In our last issue, we previewed Thomas Hanna's book, Our common wealth: The return of public ownership in the United States. 1 Here two activists and thinkers, Satoko Kishimoto of the Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, and Cat Hobbs, founder of We Own It, comment on Hanna's work.

Thomas Hanna's book on public ownership in the United States is very timely. I was surprised to learn just how common, widespread and popular public ownership actually is in the United States. Hanna's study covers everything from utilities, banking, health care, transport, energy, pharmaceuticals, defence and telecoms to manufacturing. It is eye-opening to learn that new public banks are being developed by cities and states, in the country widely considered to be the heartland of radical private sector-only capitalist ideology. The motivations for creating public banks in Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Oakland, Los Angeles and elsewhere is common sense, including the need to secure investment in local communities and local business. Public banks are created to help finance affordable housing, but also to support the booming legalised marijuana sector, which is largely prevented from using traditional banking services due to federal drug laws.

You may think that advocating for the benefits of public ownership is a defensive, uphill undertaking. Readers of Our common wealth will not feel that way, but rather be inspired and encouraged by the facts and the vision for the future presented in the book. In recent years, for instance, more than 450 local communities in the US have established publicly owned internet networks, including fifty with super-fast networks (chapter 1). There are strong and sound economic and social reasons for public ownership in infrastructure and services including telecommunications, which are in practice often a natural monopoly. Under these private monopolies, 50 million Americans do not have access to high-speed internet--roughly 30 per cent of households (chapter 5). Efficient and affordable internet connection for all is an important challenge, which public ownership can meet.

The many on-the-ground examples highlighted in the book effectively debunk neoliberal claims that public ownership is less efficient than the private sector and a thing of the past (chapter 2). Quite the contrary, Hanna shows the huge potential for public ownership to meet citizens' needs, which increasingly often go unmet by the markets that dominate our societies...

To continue reading

Request your trial