The Privatization Song

As senior managing editor of Michigan Privatization Report (MPR), the largest circulation quarterly of its kind in the world, I have virtually “seen it all” with respect to privatization. Now, I have heard it all. An English language, African-based band named “Afrigo” from Uganda has released a song entitled, “Today for Tomorrow,” which celebrates the benefits of privatization. It’s not Jimmy Buffet, but it’s not half bad. Here is a sample of the lyrics:

Privatization, the surer route to economic emancipation/ Yeah, businessmen run businesses/government govern the nation/ You and I didn’t create the situation/ Let’s unite/check the economy/ a better future for our children;

And

Make a hard decision today and it will pay off in the future….

According to MP3.com, where this track can be found, Afrigo’s album has been downloaded more than 25,000 times.

This one little song may seem insignificant to most people but for me it carries enormous implications for Uganda and maybe even the United States and Michigan. No, I don’t expect it to be No. 1 on the African hit parade (although who would have expected someone to put out a song about privatization?). But when public policy strategies become so well known that they are celebrated in pop music, it means the idea itself has infused the culture.

Infusing the culture with a particular idea is no small occurrence since ideas, however benign or controversial, often take decades to percolate before reaching a “tipping point,” where paradigms shift on a grand scale and with alacrity. The phrase tipping point comes from a book by the same name, whose jacket describes a tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

Unfortunately, some of the most amazing advances in privatization have consistently come from units of government where there was simply no other choice but to privatize. Chile, parts of Africa, and Estonia are good examples. The good news is that, regardless of the motivation, the word “privatization” has been identified as more than just a word. It has become a rallying cry against corruption, and for greater economic freedom. In 1997 even Michigan saw state employees rallying for privatization of their state-owned vaccine lab, the Michigan Biologic Products Institute (see the Winter 1998 MPR).

Indeed, the accompanying photograph, taken outside the airport in Kagali, Rwanda is a case in point. The sign in the photograph is written in Swahili and reads: “Privatization fights laziness, privatization fights poverty, privatization fights smuggling, and privatization fights unemployment.” I have always been heartened by such shows of faith in market forces, particularly by cultures that have been so oppressed by government-sponsored central planning.

The good news is that apparently there is a culture of privatization developing around the globe. As it gains momentum, let us hope that American policy-makers have the foresight to look at privatization as a policy option. Why? Because it is the good-government thing to do, and its benefits promise more freedom and prosperity to millions who are poorly served by their governments. And who knows? It could catch on so well, even Britney Spears might sing about it.


Michael LaFaive is senior managing editor of Michigan Privatization Report and research projects manager for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.