By Staff Writer Greg Estabrooks.
Domino’s and other private companies, such as Uber and Lyft, are beginning to creep over into the public sphere with some of their recent projects.
Domino’s, a titan of chain pizzerias, has recently launched their new Paving for Pizza campaign, which seeks to alleviate neglected town roads of their potholes. Domino’s claims they are doing this out of their devotion to pizza and to their pizza lovers across the country. The idea is, fewer potholes means fewer pizzas get ruined in transit to their destination.
But of course, the Paving for Pizza campaign is doing more for Domino’s than merely stopping the cheese from sliding off of their pies. They are fixing potholes on the roads that their delivery drivers use daily, which means less wear and tear on their vehicles.
The company also is applying their logo to the patches in the potholes that they are repairing, making them de-facto advertisements. In addition, their media exposure has seen a hefty spike due to the supposedly altruistic campaign.
So while it is expected that private companies will undertake schemes such as this to promote their interests, is the broader concept itself, of private companies performing duties normally reserved for the government, beneficial for us as well?
Government investment in infrastructure and in other public goods, those which are available for everybody to use, is significantly lower in the United States than it is in many European Countries.
Government investment as a percentage of GDP peaked in the 1960s at around 7 percent, but has been on the decline ever since. It was 4.5 percent in 2009, and it has since fallen to a meager 3.2 percent in 2018.
One reason for this could be the polarization of politics in the United States. Since people can’t agree on what they think the government should do, stalemates on issues like infrastructure often occur as a result.
Another reason for the decline could be the expensiveness and inefficiency of infrastructure projects in America. The costs of infrastructure are expensive here compared to other countries, and projects are normally drawn out for excessive periods of time.
Since the government is so poor at getting infrastructure projects done, then perhaps the private sector could indeed do it better and more efficiently. A primary advantage of privatizing infrastructure and other public projects is the creation of competition.
Pertaining to infrastructure, companies could compete for the rights to both build and repair roads, bridges, airports, transportation, and anything else used by the general public. As a result of competition, companies naturally become innovative in order to ensure that they have a leg-up on their competitor. In turn, they develop more efficient and more practical ways to do things.
This is an area where the government possesses a major fault. Since the government has nobody to compete with besides themselves, they are not motivated to innovate and instead keep using the same methods and technology that was previously available.
The private companies would need to make a profit off of all of this, which is where tolls and user fees come in. One idea is to create GPS tracking systems in cars to measure the miles that people drive on these roads, so that they can be appropriately charged. We already pay to use roads anyway when we pay a gas tax at the pump, as this goes into federal highway funding. This tax could be eliminated under the new privatized system.
Privatization of these duties certainly represents a radical change, and valid objections could be raised. For instance, corruption could result from the battle for the rights to undertake these projects, and giant corporations could eventually drown out the spirit of competition. But these are issues that we have dealt with before, and they are ones that could be avoided with proper regulatory measures.
As mentioned earlier, Uber and Lyft are too getting involved in public matters. They are seeking to tackle the issue of low voter turnout, another byproduct of our dysfunctional democracy.
The companies are offering to give free and discounted rides to people who don’t have a way to get to the polls on November 6th. Although this is giving the companies beneficial media exposure, not unlike Domino’s Paving for Pizza campaign, it represents a genuine effort to get people to care more about politics.
Any means to this end should be encouraged, as the political apathy in this country is disturbing. Our democracy cannot function properly if people do not even carry out their most basic civic duty.
Privatization may seem unnatural and uncomfortable for some, as we are used to living in a country where public goods are provided by Uncle Sam. It could be worth a try though, as Uncle Sam sometimes lacks in his performance.
PHOTO COURTESY: THE WASHINGTON POST