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Privatizing Government Services

- December 8, 2017
Do business-run public services save taxpayers money?
Featured Report

President Trump has said he wants to turn over certain public functions, including air traffic control, to profit-making private contractors. While his specific intentions remain unclear, supporters of privatization contend it would save money and inject competition into what they claim is a bureaucratic system that lacks efficiency and innovation, discourages cost cutting and falls prey to political whim. Opponents argue, however, that privatization often fails to reduce costs and undermines democracy by putting private business in charge of vital public services. Republican President Ronald Reagan advocated privatization in the 1980s, and it has grown under both Republican and Democratic administrations to include charter schools, municipal water systems and military operations. Still, some of the fervor for privatization has cooled in recent years, especially after studies found higher rates of civil rights abuses, medical neglect and assaults on guards in privately run prisons than in government facilities.

Infrastructure Needs

President Trump’s rebuilding plan remains unclear.

Charter Schools

They continue to grow in the United States.

Privatizing Prisons

Trump’s support has revived the private-prison industry.

Air Traffic Control

Opponents say privatization benefits airlines at consumers’ expense.

1944–1976Modern privatization movement begins.
1980s-1992President Ronald Reagan vows to shrink the federal government; privatization grows at the state and local levels.
1990s-2008Privatization is embraced by both political parties with the election of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
2010-PresentPresident Barack Obama reduces private contracting at the federal level; President Trump seeks to reverse that policy.

Should the U.S. use private capital to rebuild infrastructure?


Robert Poole
Transportation Policy Director, Reason Foundation.


Donald Cohen
Executive Director, In the Public Interest .


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