These New York Times debates are never wholly satisfying, but are an interesting indicator of what kinds of “debates” are coming to the fore of political conversation, and how those debates are framed (what are the central questions? how are the sides staked out?).

Interestingly, just as austerity policies are driving the outsourcing and privatization of many services and goods once provided by governments, the amount of research suggesting that governments are actually more efficient and better providers mounts. This tension is at least partly responsible for the growing debate about privatization (contrasted with the early 2000s and before, when it was generally considered common sense that the private sector did everything more efficiently).

Mildred Warner’s contribution to this debate cites some of the research on effectiveness and prevalence of outsourcing. It’s important for those of us who research and write about neoliberalism, austerity, shrinking governance, etc. recognize that the story of privatization is complex, and has not been linear. But it’s also important to recognize that “privatization” also encompasses the steady reduction in the scale and type of services offered by the public sector. The movement toward charter schools, the shifting of housing and support services to the nonprofit sector as public funding decreases, are also important pieces of the privatization story.