The Role of the Public and Private Sectors in the Good Society

Governments are increasingly reliant on private sector principles for the provision of public services.

The city government of Santa Barbara allows prisoners to upgrade their accommodations. For a mere $82 per night, detainees have access to a private cell, separate from the general population, and are permitted access to a greater variety of entertainment—ipods, computers, and so on.

In Washington, DC, lobbyists now pay homeless people to wait in line to get access to key committee hearings.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, private military contractors outnumbered military personnel on the ground and provided the vast majority of reconstruction efforts and service delivery in support of the US military effort.

In this TED Talk, Michael Sandel describes this as a “quiet revolution” in which we have slowly moved from having a market economy to becoming a market society.

On one side, fees for public services provide incentives for better service and introduce a greater level of efficiency in the public sector. Toll roads, for example, force individuals to balance the value of their time against the greater cost of driving the toll road. But Sandel argues that the introduction of market society undermines the inclusiveness of public life, facilitates inequality, and crowd out the “public good” from public life.

What do you think? Do market solutions to public service challenge promote more efficiency in the public sector or undermine the promise of inclusiveness and equality in the United States? Do you agree with Sandel’s argument presented in the video? Why? And what are the unintended consequences of such policy changes?

[This article was previously published at the Election Center blog and is reprinted here with permission.]

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