Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some Things Should Not Be Left To Private Enterprise.

Up until the onset of the Global Financial Crisis, the champions of Economic Rationalism were winning the debate over the benefits of Private Enterprise involvement in almost every aspect of our economy. For many, there was no question that private enterprise is always more efficient, more productive and better equipped to deliver the services we depend upon. The related concept of “user pays” became a mantra which was supposed to ensure economic efficiency and better outcomes. However there was always an undercurrent of public opinion which held that there are some things which should not be left to private enterprise.

One of the results of the Global Financial Crisis is that a shift of opinion has occurred, with the growing realisation that “bottom line thinking” doesn’t always deliver the best outcomes. Economic Rationalism has made the system more important than the people it is supposed to serve. We can see the evidence for this in customers waiting in queues, either in person or on the phone, because it is more “efficient”. Efficient for whom? The system! Not the customer, who undoubtedly has much better things to do with his time than wait in queues. That’s just one minor example, but I’m sure you see what I mean.

Some areas which many people believe should never be left to private enterprise include the operation of public infrastructure, public transport, defence and national security, essential services such as power and water, health services and education. There are many other examples, but those are areas about which many people hold concerns. They are also all areas which to some extent or other have seen increased involvement of private enterprise. In many cases the debate about the value of private sector involvement will be ongoing, but when it comes to childcare it seems that very serious questions are now being asked in the wake of the ABC Learning corporate disaster.

There are now increasing calls for child care to be returned to the community non-profit and local government sectors. The argument against the corporatization of childcare is now gathering a great deal of momentum, and rightly so. Now that it has emerged that almost 400 ABC Centres are likely to close, it’s easy to see the impact on the community from the disruption to this essential service. It’s also a valid argument to point out that, as a society, we do not allow the corporatization of any other part of our education system to such an extent. The only things which come close are the rare private university, and some trades and professional training institutions. The big difference is that they are adult education, not child development. Neither do they have the same status as an essential service in a working economy.

While our private enterprise economy is and should remain the source of our prosperity, it remains the role of government to manage our community for the benefit of all its members. That should include appropriate management of our essential community infrastructure and services, especially when it comes to something as important as childcare, because our kids are more important than the bank balance of some corporate buccaneer.

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