You Don't Always Get What You Pay for: The Economics of Privatization / Edition 1

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Today, nearly all public services—schools, hospitals, prisons, fire departments, sanitation—are considered fair game for privatization. Proponents of privatization argue that private firms will respond to competitive market pressures and provide better service at lower cost. While this assertion has caused much controversy, the debate between both sides has consisted mainly of impassioned defenses of entrenched positions. In You Don't Always Get What You Pay For, Elliott D. Sclar offers a balanced look at the pitfalls and promises of public sector privatization in the United States. By describing the underlying economic dynamics of how public agencies and private organizations actually work together, he provides a rigorous analysis of the assumptions behind the case for privatization.The competitive-market model may seem appealing, but Sclar warns that it does not address the complex reality of contracting for government services. Using specific examples, such as mail service and urban transportation, he shows that ironically privatization does not shrink government—the broader goal of many of its own champions. He also demonstrates that there is more to consider in providing public services than trying to achieve efficiency; there are issues of equity and access that cannot be ignored.Sclar believes that public officials and voters will soon realize the limitations of "contracting out" just as private corporations have come to understand the drawbacks of outsourcing. After examining the effectiveness of alternatives to privatization, he offers suggestions for improving public sector performance—advice he hopes will be heeded before it is too late.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Sclar . . . has written a highly readable. . . account. . . which ought to be required reading for those engaged in contracting out government services. Recommended for public, academic, and professional library collections."—Choice, October, 2000.

"The domestic enthusiasts of privatization seem to believe that if you want a job done right you must ask the private sector to do it. . .Before they bubble over with giddy, rich-kid ideas like letting Federal Express take over the local post office, they should sit quietly in a corner and read Elliot D. Sclar's new book, You Don't Always Get What You Pay For . . . With breathtaking clarity, Professor Sclar reminds us that today's privatization is nothing more than a fancy label for yesterday's public contracting . . .But as this book demonstrates with one delicious and well documented example after another, you don't have to be corrupt to botch public contracting . . . The wisest lesson that Professor Sclar offers is that poorly managed privatization can collide with important public values . . . His examples and his analysis—and most of all his plea for sensible attention to good public management techniques—deserve wide notice. Even if politicians don't heed his advice, taxpayers should. "—Diana B. Hendriques. The New York Times. May 14,2000.

"Sclar analyzes the assumptions behind the case for privatization of all public services such as hospitals, prisons, and fire departments. The goal of this book is to present readers with a better understanding of the author's recommendations to balance the use of contracting with internal reform to enhance the operation of public agencies."—Mary Whaley. Booklist. June 1, 2000.

"Elliot Sclar's important new book, You Don't Always Get What You Pay For: The Economics of Privatization. . . .shows, in an accessible and non-technical style that, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of public service privatization, it is necessary to understand the theory behind the policy."—Regional Labor Review. 2000.

"Addresses the factors that must go into any decision to reorganize public service, examines the economic reasons why the reform strategy of privatization in the form of public contracting often bogs down, and constructs solutions aimed at improving public service."—Journal of Economic Literature. December, 2000

"This book by Elliot Sclar is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the bases and consequences of the still powerful drive to privatize. . . In short, Sclar's book is a work of enlightenment. . . It should be studied closely by anybody with a serious interest in these important issues."—Edward S. Herman, University of Pennsylvania. Texas Observer, September 2000

"You Don't Always Get What You Pay For is an excellent book on an extremely important topic, discussing in depth the theory and practice, and pitfalls as well as promises, of privatization. Elliott Sclar does a wonderful job of placing the debate in its proper theoretical context, which few others do, and explaining rather complex concepts in an easily understood style—no small feat. I was stunned by Sclar's ability to describe rather obtuse theories so readily—there are 'gems' throughout. He has a gift."—Bruce Wallin, Northeastern University

"Elliott Sclar's critique will serve as a valuable reality check against the rush to private contracting as the solution to government's problems. In this empirically rich, closely reasoned book, Sclar shows how privatization diverts attention from effective strategies for government reform that are based on innovation, employee involvement, and the redesign of services."—Martin D. Hanlon, Queens College of the City University of New York

"How to describe You Don't Always Get What You Pay For—as practical assessment anchored by theory, or as theory enriched by real-world examples? From either angle, Elliott Sclar freshens and deepens an important debate."—John D. Donahue, Harvard University, author of The Privatization Decision

"Proponents of greater reliance of private contracting for government services, among whom I count myself, often speak as if privatization guarantees better results at lower costs. But Elliott Sclar's careful analysis of the historical record will persuade all but the most hardened skeptic that this is not always true. You Don't Always Get What You Pay For should be required reading for government reform advocates from all parts of the political spectrum."—Robert H. Frank, Cornell University

In an assessment of the pros and cons of public sector privatization, Sclar (urban planning, Columbia U.), who is affiliated with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, warns that outsourcing services may not result in leaner US government. He examines alternatives and offers tips for public sector reform. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Diana Henriques
…this book demonstrates with one delicious and well-documented example after another, you don't have to be corrupt to botch public contracting…just being dogmatic and unimaginative will suffice.
The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801487620
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2001
  • Series: A Century Foundation Book Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 910,670
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword vii
Acknowledgments xi
Chapter 1 The Urge to Privatize: From the Bureaucratic State to the Contract State 1
Chapter 2 What Is the Public Buying? Identifying the Contracted Public Good 20
Chapter 3 Public vs. Private Production: Is One Better and How Would You Know? 47
Chapter 4 What's Competition Got to Do with It? Market Structures and Public Contracting 69
Chapter 5 All in the System: Organizational Theories and Public Contracting 94
Chapter 6 Restructuring Work: The Relational Contract 130
Chapter 7 The Privatization of Public Service: Economic Limits of the Contract State 151
Bibliography 169
Index 177
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