Public Ownership

Henry Ware Allen

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June 1937]


Will you kindly permit a few remarks upon the much mooted problem of public ownership of public utilities? The orthodox position of Single Taxers has, I believe, always been that while the force of competition automatically provides minimum prices to the consumer in ordinary business transactions, this protection is absent with natural monopolies, and that therefore public ownership and operation of public utilities is the only alternative. But the enormous growth of governmental activities in the direction of State Socialism during the past few years combined as this has been with unprecedented use of the spoils system has given us a far greater evil to contend with than could possibly result from private ownership and operation of these utilities. In such an emergency it becomes the part of wisdom to favor the lesser of the two evils and to reduce that evil to the minimum.

There is no doubt whatsoever as to the greater efficiency and economy of administration of private operation as compared to public operation of public utilities or any other business enterprises. The waste and the inefficiency in the public service and particularly in the newer branches filled with political appointees and all too often regardless of fitness or qualification is everywhere recognized, but fair minded criticism will give credit to intelligent effort of conscientious men in both private and public service. Volumes of testimony are available to support both sides of the dispute.

In view of recent events in our nation's history above referred to, I am constrained to state that were I to publish a second edition of my book, "Prosperity," I would omit entirely chapter VI, Public Utilities.