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Public ownership rises again

Imagine if the air that we breathe were privatized.

Companies would allocate it for payment and profit, and, one would hope, throw in a bit of quality control.

A completely crazy idea, of course, but it puts into perspective just how much of what we consider public goods or the commons has already been carved up. In many parts of the world, even water – the next of life’s essentials – is already in private hands. No-one grows or makes it, yet corporations are allowed to control it.

For over four decades the mantra of ‘private good, public bad’ repeated by global financial institutions and proponents of small (read ‘corporate’) government has fed the fiction that the private sector is better, more efficient at almost anything. The notion barely registers that private profits made from public goods and services deplete the commons even further.

Despite flop after expensive flop requiring public bailout and tales of corporate corruption that match anything levelled at state bureaucracies, the drive to privatize is still in full vroom. Except, now counter currents are also flowing. Often at the city and citizen level, there is an upsurge of public ownership, showing that it can be done and done better in the common interest. This edition’s Big Story celebrates this highly significant shift, while not glossing over the difficulties posed by the hostile climate in which it is occurring.

In our other features, we travel to the island of Bougainville for a classic tale of the resource curse. After a history of strife related to mining, followed by a hard-fought victory for eco-rebels, the possible exploitation of the island’s fabulous mineral wealth is stirring up old tensions.


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Included in this issue

Mixed Media: Film

The Beast, directed and written by Michael Pearce; The Wound (Inxeba), directed and co-written by John Trengove.

Calypso Rose

Calypso Rose talks gender equality

She’s survived cancer, two heart attacks and even fractured a few ribs on stage. Tobago’s music legend Calypso Rose talks...

Shutting down guns and greed

Mark Engler considers popular resistance to mass shootings and increasing healthcare costs in the US. 

Ada Colau arrives at a municipal elections rally.

Reclaiming the city

In the Barcelona area, local governments and citizens are transforming municipal politics, finds Luke Stobart.

Mixed Media: Graphic novels

My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame; What does consent really mean? by Pete Wallis and Thalia Wallis, illustrated by Joseph...


Country Profile: Lebanon

Civil war, ISIS invasions, mountains of rubbish. Reem Haddad reports from Beirut.

The almighty investor

Lavinia Steinfort on the insidious 'investor protection mechanisms' stacking the odds in favour of corporations.

Passengers at Clapham Junction, south London. According to a 2017 Legatum Institute poll 76 per cent of British passengers want the railways in public ownership.

The efficiency myth

Nick Dowson dismantles the notion that the private sector does things better.

A drinking water vendor sets off, looking for customers in Jakarta’s poorest neighbourhoods. Photo: Solo Imaji/Barcroft Media via Getty

Jakarta's water woes

A civil society lawsuit has ended the city's water sell-off. But the fight isn't over. Febriana Firdaus reports.

Communities around the world are embracing public ownership

The people strike back against privatization

Communities across the world taking back control of services and resources.

Cat Hobbs, We Own It

‘Privatization has failed repeatedly’

Dinyar Godrej interviews We Own It campaign founder Cat Hobbs on why the time is ripe for change.

What drives young men to embrace religious extremism in Pakistan?

Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of South Asia’s leading nuclear physicists, talks to Andy Heintz about why the word ‘liberal’ is so...

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