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Human Revenue Stream

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Human Revenue Stream

Post by The Invisible Man on Fri Mar 23, 2012 11:26 pm

THIS REPORT looks at privatization in England in a way that makes it easy to understand why Canada shouldn't place natural resources or public services into private hands.

The privatisations are joining up. First it was gas. Then telecoms, oil, electricity, public housing, water, the railways, the airports. There are moves afoot to obliterate the concept of the council house; NHS hospitals are to be privately run, built and managed; now David Cameron wants to get private companies and foreign governments to ‘invest’ in Britain’s roads. What does it all mean? The episodic character of privatisation – one sector being sold, then a pause, then another – has hidden a meta-privatisation that’s passed the halfway point. The essential public good that Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now Cameron sell is not power stations, or trains, or hospitals. It’s the public itself. It’s us.

The commodity that makes water and roads and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the tollkeepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here. If it’s not obvious that we’re being sold to investors, it’s partly because the idea of privatisation is sold so hard to us, in a way that is hypnotically familiar. First, the denigration of the existing service, as if a universally accepted truth is being voiced: the schools/hospitals/roads are crumbling/failing/ second-class. Then, the rejection of government responsibility: we’ve no money/bureaucrats are incompetent. Finally, the solution: private investment.

And that investment does come, and things get shinier. Surely if the private sector weren’t replacing our old sewers, and won’t replace our old motorways and power stations, we’d need to pay higher taxes instead? The truth is that we already do pay higher taxes. They just aren’t called taxes. Our water supply system is being upgraded because of a huge water tax increase. But it isn’t called that. It’s called ‘the water bill’. As Chris Giles explained yesterday in the FT, water bills have gone up by nearly twice as much as inflation since privatisation. We pay a rail tax: it’s called ‘fare increases’. We pay an energy tax in the form of higher electricity bills, and so on.

By packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors, the government makes it possible to keep traditional taxes low or even cut them. By moving from a system where public services are supported by general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services, like a road network, that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum.

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The Invisible Man

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