So I suspect the real issue here is not the appropriateness of a private entity a provider of a particular service but the very notion of community. I put the word "public" in quotes above. Two of the most remarkable examples above come (respectively) from Russia and the Congo--places where the very idea of "community" emerges as a kind of a cruel joke. By contrast, it is fairly well accepted that the entities where "the state" plays the largest role are those with a high degree of cultural homogeneity, where the citizens understand themselves as part of a shared enterprise. It's the "shared enterprise" part that seems to me crucial--and also elusive, precisely because when it works best it is more or less invisible. That's the best segue I can think of into the best thing I read this weekend. I steal from James Fallows (I'm actually not clear on Fallows' original source):
You're working on your 1972 F150 ..., it needs a new whats-it. You go down to the local auto parts store and say "I need a new whats-it for my F150"
"We're gonna have to order one of those," the parts guy says, his voice apologizing for and conveying a sense of inconvenience.
"Oh. How long will it take to get one?"
"Tomorrow morning at the earliest," he'll say gravely. "Maybe tomorrow afternoon."
People have no idea how convenient their lives are, or how much opportunity cost is not lost and human capital is not lost because we have a socio-economic system that can get you a whats-it for a 1972 F150 in 12-24 hours. And yes, we're pissing it away.I guess I'm struggling for my point here, but let me try again. I suppose you could say that a well-run private enterprise would be best equipped to make sure that the 1972 whats-it showed up on time. My argument is that even the private enterprise depends on a network of relationships and presumptions of which it may be barely conscious and without which it can barely survive.
*The following is apparently not Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons," but how would I know: