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Grimen-lecture 2022: Joseph Heath, University of Toronto: Anodyne Privatizations

Anodyne Privatization: Privatization of state services has been a flashpoint for political conflict over the past several decades. It is widely thought that all those who support the welfare state, along with its central mission of attenuating the inequalities generated by the market, should be opposed to privatization in all forms.

The goal of this paper is to explain why someone who is a supporter of the welfare state might also support the privatization of certain state services, in certain cases. A great deal of the philosophical literature has focused on the most problematic privatization initiatives, especially the introduction of private prisons and military contractors.

As a counterpoint to this, I will describe a set of anodyne privatizations, understood as privatizations that no reasonable person could object to. This provides a framework for assessing the acceptability of any particular privatization proposal, because most can be situated between these two extremes. The first step in developing this analysis involves showing that privatization is not a unitary phenomenon.

Most importantly, there are different types of privatization, and confusingly, different degrees of privatization. There are also importantly different motives for privatization.

Once it is made clear that several quite different phenomena are routinely described as privatization, it becomes easier to see that there are important normative differences between these various initiatives, which might lead a reasonable person to support some, but not others.

About the lecturer

Joseph Heath is Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. He has worked extensively in the field of critical theory, philosophy and economics, practical rationality, distributive justice, and business ethics.

His papers have been published in academic journals such as Mind, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, and the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. He spent time as a regular columnist writing for the Montreal Gazette and Policy Options magazine, and still contributes the occasional piece to the Literary Review of Canada and the Ottawa Citizen. He participates in a group blog on Canadian public affairs (induecourse.ca).

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