What?

We need to develop a new language to talk about public ownership, one that detoxifies it and taps into the wide recognition that natural resources and essential public services should not be treated as commodities.

Natural resources are, definitionally, commodities. That’s why the markets they are traded on are called “commodity markets”.

12 comments on “What?

  1. I can never understand this demand for nationalisation in the belief that it will in public ownership shared by the whole public. It doesn’t do anything of the sort. All nationalisation does is put a few cronies in charge of a large business. They are the ones who benefit, not the public. Because the cronies have the interests of those who placed them there at heart and not those of the public, the business is not usually run for the benefit of the public or customers. See British xxx where xxx is any business from the 60-70s.

    Privatisation however does put a business into the hands of the public. They can become shareholders. The leaders of the business primarily have the business at heart and therefore will run the business for the benefit of its customers.

    And because no cronyism is required by politicians to keep the business going the business is not dependent on the whims of politicians but rather the whims of the public.

  2. SadButMadLad is assuming that privatisation creates competition for customers – which is usually designed into privatisations, but is not part of privatisation ipso facto. We need to make the point that competition is vital to improving services. The Grauniad pretends that privatisations replace a state-owned monopoly with a privately-owned monopoly.

  3. “Commodity” means something different in Guardian speak, clearly. It seems that the writer does not regard coal, for instance, as a “commodity” which flatly contradicts the dictionary definition. Perhaps they would enjoy to spend their time explaining how two equally sized sacks of coal from the same mine should be differentiated, and how the price or value of each sack should depend on whatever differentiable quality they discern rather than a flat price.

    Obviously “commodity” isn’t being used in the dictionary sense, but because it is felt to have negative undertones. Why? I think firstly because commodities can be bought and sold, and these are dirty words, especially to someone who believes “natural resources and essential services are too valuable to be traded”. Secondly it recalls Marx and the concept, obviously negative, of “commodification”. But Marx had a good idea of what a “commodity” is (a grasp the author lacks?) and “commodification” simply means something becoming more like one. I suspect this is a case of a technical word entering the political lexicon, losing its economic meaning, and developing a second life as a mere buzzword.

  4. There’s another definitional problem here. What is public “ownership”? How is it possible for the public to “own” something, where the word “own” retains the features implicit to it? For instance, if the public “owns” the coal mines, how do i sell my share to you?

    It has seemed to me for a while that the (anti) concept of public “ownership”, more than all the other assaults on private property, is the real dagger to its heart.

  5. The argument fails to take into account that some ‘privatisations’ in fact extended public ownership although in the case of Électricité de France, it’s a French public and with Rheinisch-Westfälische Elektrizitätswerke, a German one.

    What’s not to like: public ownership and internationalism in a single package.

  6. “We need to develop a new language to talk about public ownership”: spot on. I suggest “government ownership”.

  7. Because we haven’t already got several decades of experience seeing what “public ownership” means in practice across a wide variety of industries…

    “Anne Karpf is a columnist, writer and sociologist … She is reader in professional writing and cultural inquiry at London Metropolitan University”

    Time to either purge the universities or burn them to the ground, salt the earth, and drive the academics before us.

  8. dearieme, that’s sometimes used, in fact. But anyway, how can a government which is neither a body corporate nor a private person “own” anything?

  9. “Time to either purge the universities or burn them to the ground, salt the earth, and drive the academics before us.”

    No need. Just stop direct government funding, loans to students, and regulation. Most universities are incapable of supporting themselves and would collapse very quickly.

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