Privatization of public assets: from Columbus to The Space Merchants

I was just marking one of my last exams ever and I got to thinking about privatization of public assets.  I guess it was because one of my students made a reference to something or other more or less related to the topic of this post.  Harper is the king of privatization.  Mark my words, the closure of Kingston Pen is just paving the way for the entry of private prisons in Canada.  They’re most popular in Australia, there’s some in the UK and the US has many private prisons (150 or so at last count accounting for some 17% of the American inmate population of 2 million people.  Don’t get me started on the contradictions inherent in private prisons or private, for-profit universities either, for that matter.  But then I thought back to a book I read years ago called The Space Merchants (available on Amazon).  The main theme of this novel is that everything at the time in the future in which this novel takes place is private.  No public.  Everything is privately owned and controlled.  The private market rules.  At the time I read this book I thought the theme a little far-fetched.  I don’t so much now.  In view of the way the governments in Canada have privatized public assets right from the beginning of Canada and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad to the most recent transfers of public lands in British Columbia to private ‘timber’ companies I think that the writing is now on the wall.  But you know, I got to thinking about Christopher Columbus.  He got involved in the first P3 that I can think of.  There may be earlier examples.  If you know of any, I’d like to know.  He got involved with  Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain.  The deal was that they would get the land and he’d get whatever else he could scrape together wherever he was.  Turns out it wasn’t a lot but he gave it a shot.  First public/private partnership.  We haven’t seen anything yet.  We haven’t even gotten past the stage of history when countries still exist, but as we go along more and more public assets and responsibilities will go to the private sector.  The process is irreversible.  As Karl Marx was on about, history is really the history of classes of course, but that’s build on a foundation, for him, of the replacement of labour by capital, systematically for the past 10,000 years and accelerating with the capitalist mode of production.  I think that his perspective could well include the privatization of everything because once capital has completely replaced or devalued labour to such an extent that it’s not worth getting out of bed in the morning, we could actually be living in a world where government services are not only privatized, but government itself is private.  Come on, just think about it.  Instead of having elections like we do now, we could just call for tenders and pick the lowest bidder.  Sounds reasonable to me.  Most governments these days are already for sale to the highest bidder.  Now it’s just a matter of formalizing that relationship.