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February 19, 2006

Privatization: Denying Democracy to Our Children

In a post a week ago, I wrote about what a crappy economic deal Indiana was getting from privatizing management of a toll road, with short term budget gains coming at the expensive of costs for future generations.

But this article highlights that the details of such private roads also more broadly shut down democratic urban planning for future legislatures. Part of the deal for the private toll road is that no other highway can be built or upgraded within ten miles of the Toll Road for fifty years.

So if urban density increases along the Toll Road corridor, future legislatures will be barred from creating new highways nearby: the Toll Road gets a fifty year monopoly.

What this amounts to is zoning a twenty-mile wide area against any new highways and banning future legislatures from reversing the decision. If one wants to encourage construction of mass transit, that has some appeal, but from a democratic theory viewpoint, it's a nightmare.

But that's true of much of privatization. Public resources, controlled by democratic accountability, get handed over to private interests and, depending on how property rights are defined, prevent future governments from easily regaining the democratic control the present generation had. That undermining of democracy is one of the subtler but very real goals of those engaged in privatization of public services and assets.

Posted by Nathan at February 19, 2006 07:41 AM