Our common wealth

The return of public ownership in the United States

Public ownership is far more widespread and popular in the United States than is commonly understood. Despite decades of ideological hostility, public ownership not only persists in such well-known large-scale forms as Amtrak and the Tennessee Valley Authority, but is expanding at the local level and in important sectors. Based on years of research, this book is the most comprehensive overview and up-to-date analysis of the scope and scale of U.S. public ownership, uncovering its prevalence at all levels from local municipalities on up. Drawing upon additional examples from the UK and elsewhere, it debunks frequent misconceptions about its relative efficiency and performance vis-à-vis the private sector. It also reviews how public ownership is treated in the emerging field of alternative systemic design. In a world plagued by inequality, instability, and ecological limits, this book argues that public ownership offers powerful, flexible solutions and should be restored to its rightful place on the full menu of public policy options. It ends with a vision of deploying new forms of democratized public ownership broadly, across multiple sectors, as a key ingredient of any next system beyond corporate capitalism. This book is a valuable, extensively researched resource that sets out the past record and future possibilities of public ownership at a time when ever more people are searching for answers. It situates public ownership squarely within existing, real-world experience, suggesting why, after decades of privatization, it is making a comeback—including in the radical agenda of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in Britain.

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‘British politics is only now catching up with the reality that public ownership is popular, possible and potentially transformatory. This book is crucial both in demonstrating the need for alternatives to our current economic system, exploring what those alternatives might look like and detailing the lessons we can learn from existing examples of public ownership.'
John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

‘Deeply-informed, thoughtful and beautifully-written. Thomas Hanna surveys the rich history, surprising tenacity and hopeful future of public enterprise, which along with non-profits and cooperatives surely define the sustainable future if we hope to have one.'
James K. Galbraith, The University of Texas at Austin, author of Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know

‘Mainstream economists mostly affirm that more choice is better than less, but then insist that private be the only choice for enterprise ownership and that hierarchical be the only choice of enterprise structure. The alternatives, public enterprises and worker cooperatives, are effectively excluded. Private enterprise and hierarchical fundamentalisms are as unattractive as their religious or ideological parallels. Public enterprises are important objects for the respectful study this book provides.'
Richard D. Wolff, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, author of Capitalism's Crisis Deepens: Essays on the Global Economic Meltdown

‘Remunicipalisations and renationalisations of public services are spreading and unstoppable. Recent developments in Germany, Spain, the UK and elsewhere as a collective response to the systematic failures of privatisation have demonstrated that there are better solutions than ever-more privatisation, ever-more austerity and ever-lower expectations. Thomas Hanna's study on Public ownership in the United States is timely. We urgently need to develop viable and achievable alternatives for economic democracy internationally.'
Satoko Kishimoto, Public Alternative Project at Transnational Institute, Amsterdam

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