My unpopular opinion: public is better

There’s a blogger called Saving Ninja who does thought experiments every two months and invites other FIRE bloggers to join in.

(Original post with links to other participants too)

This is the first one that’s come up since I started blogging and I thought I’d give it a go.

Here are the rules:

At the beginning of each second month, a thought experiment question will be tweeted under the hashtag #ThoughtExperiment and everyone is invited to participate with their own posts, these will then go live together on the 15th of the next month (you can still join in after this date). Below is the question asked for this Thought Experiment.

A different opinion is somewhat frowned upon in our clique based society, but some of the greatest minds of all time were outliers. They weren’t scared to go against the grain and stand up for what they believed in. So, for this Thought Experiment, I’d like you to reveal yourself: What opinion do you have that most of your peers do not share?

I didn’t realise they were tweeted in advance so I’m late to the game!

Public ownership is better than private

I’m not sure this is an ‘unpopular’ opinion as such; I doubt anyone would hate me for it other than the most thoroughgoing ideologues.

But it isn’t a common opinion, at least not in the circles that get to have their opinion on this sort of thing held up as conventional wisdom.

My main argument is that private ownership crowds out the stuff that really matters to us in favour of bad proxies for real value, proxies like efficiency and profit.

I think we should put less focus on money, and more focus on directing the efforts of the public on to real value maximisation.

That’s also why I’m a bit less enthusiastic about a Basic Income than most of my lefty peers.

As someone on a journey to FIRE I’ve been thinking about what makes me really happy, a lot.

It’s stuff like being able to have good relationships with friends, having the time to try out new ideas, reading about more new ideas, and enjoying the environment I live in.

For most people, the barrier to maximising these things is buying stuff they’ve been convinced they need/that makes them happy in the short term – and maximising short term happiness is of course an understandable impulse when you don’t see what/how a truly happy life looks like.

On the other hand, much of what will make my free life better will have been created through concerted willpower in the public sphere:

  • libraries
  • parks
  • free healthcare
  • public transport as opposed to the very inefficient plague that is individual car ownership

To end with a bit of history, I’m personally inspired by the history of municipal socialism (sometimes known as municipal enterprise or municipal liberalism, partly depending which period you’re referring to).

I want to write more about this another time, but in my opinion local public enterprise is a huge opportunity for us to explore new and better ways of living.

In the early 1900s there were councils in England setting up locally owned hot air balloon companies, energy companies, generous and beautiful housing estates, and even meat refrigeration companies (to give you a sense of the variety…)

This is coming back in to fashion a little bit, mostly as a reaction to crisis. Some councils in the UK are setting up new housing programmes, energy services, solar farms etc.

More of this please!


11 thoughts on “My unpopular opinion: public is better

    1. That sounds absolutely fab! We have a bit more of a one sided arrangement at our allotment where the neighbour gives us all the veg he and his wife grow but inexplicably don’t like to eat… Funny how much sharing and food go together, such a social thing
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I don’t think anyone will hate you for wanting to have more public ownership! It’s great to share these thoughts / ideas in the #thoughtexperiments!

    My personal feeling is that there should be more balance between public and privately owned areas as there’s a whole bunch of pro’s and con’s for either side. Privately owned tends to maximise profits, thus forcing ‘efficiency’ to remain competitive whilst at the same time falling down to corporate greed. Whilst publicly owned entities tend to balloon in cost, but have more control over decisions made within.

    Just like a diet – eat everything in moderation!

    (Just my two pence!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jase 🙂 I can see the case for moderation, I definitely think that private enterprise can be superior in some spheres (and that capitalism in general has generated a lot of progress), but I’m sceptical of how important all of its contributions are therefore how important efficiency is. Which basically means that in my view a moderate balance would include a lot more public ownership!

      Also, thanks for dropping by the blog. I’ve bookmarked your site to have a proper look around but looks useful and interesting


  2. Totally agree re more public services. Think the UK has swung too far to the right with people’s thoughts fuelled by right wing media. We are told to be more green while public transport in most areas is woeful. Our utility companies main aim is to make a profit for shareholders not provide the best, cheapest energy for consumers.

    Liked by 1 person

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