Shifting the Burden of Explanation

A lot of people get angry when somebody suggests privatizing some or other government service. For example, someone who opposes government-run schools is accused of opposing all education, period. Not a rigorous line of thought. But it’s common.

Why do some people propose privatization? It’s not because they’re against the service. It’s because they think the private sector will do a better job providing that service.

If anything, because theory and data usually side with privatizers, the burden of explanation actually lies on those who favor government provision of many services. Why support more expensive and less effective schools, or mail service, or health care, or rail travel?

Mises briefly touches on that disconnect in his short 1927 book Liberalism (that is, liberalism as the word originally meant):

If I am of the opinion that it is inexpedient to assign to the government the task of operating railroads, hotels, or mines, I am not an “enemy of the state” any more than I can be called an enemy of sulphuric acid because I am of the opinion that, useful though it may be for many purposes, it is not suitable either for drinking or for washing one’s hands.

-Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism: The Classical Tradition, p. 18.