Sep 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Director of Harvard Center for Ethics on the public good vs. privatization

allen and felix salmon

Axios' Felix Salmon (left) and Director of Harvard University's Center for Ethics Danielle Allen. Photo: Axios

A defining component of America's future will be how individuals prioritize the public good against the urge to privatize, Director of Harvard University's Center for Ethics Danielle Allen said Wednesday during a virtual Axios event.

The big picture: “The value of public good — which are government-funded services for the benefit or well-being of the general public — has come into focus throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Access to health care, government data and federal economic relief have played major roles in sustaining America.

  • But those systems are rickety due to years of underinvestment and a shift to privatization. As a result, they're struggling to meet residents' needs, Allen said.

What she's saying: "Why did the country not have an orientation towards the public good and a readiness to make a substantial public good investment to achieve that pandemic-resilient public health infrastructure right at the get-go?"

  • "When you ask that question, I think what you see is that we've spent so much time for the last few decades asking how we can privatize solutions that we literally don't know how to think about public good commitments and investments any longer."
  • Allen says investment in public good will define America's capabilities in responding to the coronavirus and other public emergencies.

The bottom line: "I think we just have to open space in people's imaginations for the concept of the public good. Instead of saying, 'How can we privatize that?,' we should be asking the question of, "How do we tell what['s] the public good? How do we spot the need for the public good?'"

Watch the event, "Reimagining capitalism in America."

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