Fifteen years ago, liberalization was embraced as the solution for all problems in the public services. That promise contrasts sharply with today’s reality. Prices did not drop but still increase. Greedy managers.
Fifteen years ago, liberalization was embraced as the solution for all problems in the public services. That promise contrasts sharply with today’s reality. Prices did not drop but still increase. Greedy managers. Bust stops and entire bus routes disappeared. More bureaucracy in health care. Many consumers do not see how to make a well-considered choice between health insurers or power suppliers. Politicians who love popularity polls avoid the term market. New markets nevertheless changed the public sector considerably, and not always for the worse: more sustainable busses, more consumer influence and waiting lists for surgeries decreased dramatically.
Fifteen years later, the debate about the merits and the downsides of liberalization is very polemic still. Opponents and supporters tirelessly bombard each other with fundamental principles. ‘Graaiers of Redders?’ (in English: Grace or Greed?) is a book that decided to leave these battle-weary debates, these trench wars. The authors instead observe the new markets from within their capillary systems. Who are the winners and losers of new markets in public transport, the energy sector and hospitals? Bus drivers, nurses, mechanics, but also managers, ministers, regulators, scientists and, last not least, consumers give plenty examples about how diverse and ambivalent the results of these new markets actually are. Their experiences are discussed together with a plenitude of facts and figures available.
The authors observe major flaws, stranded dreams and many small mistakes in the long and winding, never ending process of making these new markets really work. That is why each new cabinet reverses what previous cabinets tried to do. Though designing for new markets has been very messy, muddy and full of disappointments, this is less bad than it may seem. In the current polemic debate, dominated by pessimism, the authors plead for a cautious optimism about the future of these markets. It is now time to learn from the many experiences, take advantage of what works, repair what fails and keep fine-tuning. Worst thing to do now would be to withdraw, fighting the bugs of liberalization with again a new rigorous, ill-considered, over-complex regime change.