Renationalisation needs to break with corporatisation

My latest Guardian article is headlined https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/29/privatisation-is-deeply-unpopular-with-voters-heres-how-to-end-it. The core of the argument is that, to make a success of renationalisation, we need to do more than buy back privatised enterprises, and run them as publicly owned corporations. We need a different model. A starting point would be the statutory authority model used in Australia with great success, before the Hawke-Keating government adopted the corporatised model as a step towards privatisation.

39 thoughts on “Renationalisation needs to break with corporatisation

  1. @Ikonoclast

    Even so, you’d think that it would occur to modern-day Germans not to use poison gas to experiment on people. Especially at Volkswagen, 80% of whose wartime workforce were slave labourers from concentration camps. Whoever is responsible is either mad or bad or both.

  2. @John Quiggin
    The clumsy wording “members of the environment” just underlines the problem. Who do you get to represent the environment and consumers? Even if you (the government) appoint capable and well-informed individuals to earmarked slots, they don’t represent organised and coherent interests and ideologies like capital and labour. I fear your VW thought experiment is wishful thinking.

  3. @Smith
    Apparently the “testing on humans” bit of the latest VW scandal involved volunteers inhaling nitrous oxide. Which leads me to wonder if this was an actual experiment or an out-of-hours party game.

  4. @James Wimberley

    Typing too fast, I meant to write “members of the environment movement”, which is not that difficult to operationalize. As I wrote in the article, I’m not proposing a new and hypothetical idea, but an updated version of an old one, which worked pretty well.

    To be sure, both organized labor and (as Smith notes) organizational culture will have a big influence however the organization is structured. But it seems obvious to me that Telstra and Australia Post are different from their statutory authority predecessors (mostly for the worse) and that Telstra is a lot worse than Australia Post. Most obviously, if we still had Telecom Australia, we would have fibre to the node by now, and a lot more cheaply that we are getting a half-baked substitute.

  5. @John Quiggin

    AP operates under completely different conditions from when it was a government department. Email has decimated its letters business but for political reasons it still has to deliver 5 days per week and still has to charge the same for a stamp regardless of distance posted. It’s not apples and apples.

  6. @John Quiggin

    Absolutely correct, J.Q. I remember a member of Howard’s government saying, “We have made the omelette (of privatisation) and you can’t unscramble it.” One could almost hear the nasty sneer and the implied message, “… and you can never undo it.”

    That sort of message from the pro-neoliberals is, and should be considered, highly insulting and objectionable to the great majority of ordinary people. This bad stuff of neoliberalism CAN be undone. We can go, not back, but forward to a new system incorporating all the previous lessons of public ownership (it had its faults too) and all the lessons of the very definite series of failures of privatisation in the arenas of natural monopolies, public services and social goods and services. This long, failed detour into monetarism, neoliberalism, anti-science denialism, militarism and a general “endarkenment” has cost us very dearly. It’s time now to fix the egregious mess the neoliberal wreckers have foisted on us.

  7. @Smith
    Re VW and diesel exhausts. Addendum: if you are going to throw conscience to the winds and conduct grossly unethical experiments on human subjects, at least design them so you get usable results. Using just 25 human subjects, as reported, is more reminiscent of Mengele’s scientifically worthless sadism than the carefully run trials of poison gas on Chinese POWs by the Imperial Japanese Army’s notorious Unit 731. The Americans gave the perpetrators a pass on war crimes trials to get their hands on the results.

  8. Prof JQ, the saga of the sale of Telecom/Telstra is as good a demonstration that ownership does matter as can be imagined. Had Telstra remained in full government ownership, its engineers would have built fibre to the premises incrementally, starting in the areas where the copper was most rotten, with a minimum of fuss, portrayed as not much more than a maintenance activity. It would have been uncontroversial, paid by consumers on their quarterly bills. What a circus to watch the Rudd government, lacking the ownership power, trying to force a company’s board to cooperate with the sovereign government; and having to pay billions to buy their cooperation, for a copper network in terminal decline and probably worth one dollar. (Of course the Murdoch press, flaying the government at every turn, didn’t help, but they wouldn’t even have had an opportunity to be involved had Telstra been a statutory authority and simply upgraded the system as a routine operational activity).

  9. @James Wimberley

    You seem to be compounding two distinct issues.

    The first issue is fraud. VW was found to have committed fraud (a program which masks the actual emissions of their diesel vehicles, produced during a particular period of time; as mentioned by others on this thread, research found that the actual emissions outside laboratory conditions exceed the allowed limits on many cars, not only German cars).

    The second issue concerns tests of health effect of diesel emissions, using monkeys and some human subjects, the latter said to be volunteers. The second issue is not a VW issue per se. The experiment was carried out by a lobby organisation, EUGT, which purports to be concerned with environmental and health effects of the transport industry. This ‘European Reseach Group for environmental and health in the Transport industry’ hired scientists to carry out the tests. So there is a research institution involved too. The EUGT was founded by BMW, Daimler, VW and Bosch.

    The chief of VW’s specific problem, Steg, was not an engineer (contrary to Smith’s mental model). He used to be speaker of the Federal Government of the BRD. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports Steg has acquired the nickname ‘foreign minister of VW’. He is gone now from VW to presumably to less comfortable housing, after the legal matters have been resolved.

    The chief of ‘environmental protection’ of the EUGT, Udo Hartman, has been dismissed.

    JQ used VW as an example for his argument in favour of work force representation on the management board of corporations. His argument does not depend on VW; it is simply the law in Germany for all corporations (‘GmbH’). Recent research has found these corporations do adhere to the minimum wage laws and other labour laws while there are problems in the unincorporated business sector.

    There is a history to VW’s Tennessee plant in the USA regarding VW’s attempt to introduce the German model of workforce representation. But this story is too long to write about here.

    I have severe reservations about the proposal that the German legal corporate framework can be extended to include environmental aspects. It seems to me, the incentives to continue to promote diesel engines are due to the vastly different unit prices of petrol and diesel within some EU countries and the longer life expectancy of diesel engines (ie technology as understood by engineers).

    A December 2017 list of petrol and diesel prices in various EU countries can be found on the website https:// www . drive-alive.co.u./fuel_prices_europe.html. (The obviously additional spaces in the address have to be removed.)

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