The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to question our relationship to work, and to capitalism writ large. The events of the last two years have turned our attention to the importance, and sometimes failure, of public institutions like education and health (deemed as “goods” in the terms of the authors). The timely book The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back by Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian, chronicles the transformation of America in the last century-and-a-half, particularly in the last few decades. It details how private interest has threatened to take over public goods in areas from transportation or welfare to water infrastructure to justice to waste collection to education to health and beyond.
Written by a policy analyst and a historian, respectively, the book traces the collapse of the commons in America with historical information and inspires the reader to create change where they can by reclaiming segments of formerly public goods. While the context for the book is American, and the level of privatization it examines is unprecedented here in Canada, it is crucial for us to look at how the process unfolded south of the border—how quickly it happens, and how entrenched privatization can become. This book has an approachable writing style, and Cohen and Mikaelian make the historical aspects accessible and interesting. The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back would be of particular interest to those who follow history, economics, politics, and public policy. As union members, we have a role in the fight to preserve public goods, too, and this book is a worthwhile tool in that fight.