Public v. Private Enterprise

Next Monday Bernie Sanders will address the Democratic National Convention where no doubt he will slam private enterprise and urge more public enterprise. Yet if he compared the performance of private enterprises supplying services to his listeners with the performance of public enterprises in (say) California, he would be embarrassed to make his case.

Look no further than K-12 public education, which is the largest enterprise in California. Though costs to taxpayers rose nearly 70 percent over the last decade, performance has not improved, teachers are being laid off, distance learning has been spotty, and more than a few elected officials opt for private or charter schools. Or read columns in CALMatters about overtime at state prisons and COVID data failures on top of failures to serve unemployed Californians on a timely basis. Meanwhile, private enterprises from Amazon to Zoom keep on delivering.

Private enterprises are subject to market forces. Public enterprises are subject to political forces. Until recently, the only political forces attentive to public enterprises in California have been special interests who profit from those enterprises. Without support from counter forces, elected officials who care about the quality of services cannot succeed. That’s where we come in. Special interests have a decades-long head start but with the same persistence in support of lawmakers who serve the general interest, they can be beat.

Public services in California are terrible. It’s not for lack of money. It’s for lack of effort by people who claim to care about the general interest. If you’re not already in the fight, join in. Or come up with a better idea. Just don’t sit on the sidelines.

Written by

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California

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