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Need to Know, September 16, 2011: Privatizing infrastructure, government and the private sector

This week's host, Scott Simon. Photo: Will O’Leary

This week, NPR “Weekend Edition” host Scott Simon guest hosts Need to Know in the first episode of our new half-hour format. We look at the ways some cities have decided to cope with dwindling funds and the threat of bankruptcy — leasing public assets to private investors.

Also, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman discusses shrinking state budgets and the difficult decisions states are faced with in today’s economy.

And: Jon Meacham returns with an “In Perspective” essay on the balance between the government and the private sector.

Check your local listings for details.

Watch the individual segments:

City for sale: The politics of privatizing infrastructure

As communities across the country struggle to make ends meet, leasing public assets to private investors is an increasingly attractive way to generate much needed cash.  Need to Know correspondent Rick Karr travels to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a town on the brink of bankruptcy that’s considering leasing its parking infrastructure, and Chicago, Illinois, a city that decided in 2008 to plug its budget gaps by leasing its parking meters to investors for 75 years.

Christine Todd Whitman on states and shrinking budgets

Need to Know host Scott Simon talks to former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman about the difficult choices states are facing in this tough economic climate.

In Perspective: A Jon Meacham essay

As the Republican Presidential debates continue, Jon Meacham weighs in on the complicated and delicate balance between government and the private sector.


Watch more full episodes of Need to Know.


  • J7t14r

    Privatization of social services would cast millions out on the streets homeless and starving. But the best way to reduce the population is peacefully with family planning education.

  • fernly2

    The best way to increase the population is to provide a chance for each child to have food, shelter and education.  New energy sources will be discovered as well as new ways to increase the productive capacity of humans per capita per square mile of the planet.  If we invest in each human child we will be less likely to sacrifice that unit as cannon fodder, euthanization or even capital punishment.  Either we choose to invest or we prove ourselves unfit to survive.  I believe we will choose truth and beauty, not only surviving, but living abundantly.  To get practical:  support HR1489 and NAWAPA.

  • fernly2

    Monetarism, in large part privatization, is a big  Ponzi scheme of usury.  Usury is a lie that ultimately if not stopped brings down the liar as well as the subscribers to the scheme.  It is a good thing we have the beautiful legal system to re-channel this energy.   Check out Matt Taibbi’s delicious comments today about  ’rogue traders’.  

  • Obsolete1.0

    Criminal. The selling off of our public property is not a positive development. It’s a tragedy. Obviously, nothing is sacred anymore. The same goes for broadcasting.

  • Crscurious

    Accessible Transcripts for your videos???

  • jan

    True.  Not everyone can hear.  

  • Anonymous

    The new show is too stripped down.  Can’t do much with 1/2 an hour.

    Pretty good segment on privatizing public services, however.  Of course, the private sector isn’t introducing market efficiencies, just preying off indebted governments’ desperate need for revenues – ironically created by the private sector’s well-financed campaign for lower taxes – to get sweetheart deals that give these governments what looks like a lot of money up front, but really is a pittance compared to what the private mobsters will get over the long term, especially given all the goodies hidden in the fine print.

    The Whitman interview was predictable.  While she admits a legitimate role for the public sector, and presents a much more reasonable persona than your average republican, she gives us the usual bromides about how market discipline makes private firms more efficient than government.  

    We’ve allowed this country to be taken over by Wall Street.  It’s going to be a long, tough road back to democracy.

  • Joe Zenier

    This is inter generational theft. Government should not be able to sell the assets of their children and their grand

    How fair is it for Pittsburgh to sell
    off their parking system until 2086. for a few bucks now. The
    politician are stealing the review stream of the next two generations
    of worker for a temporary gain now. 200Million for the next 75 years
    why not 400 million for forever? What if the people of Pittsburgh had
    done this in 1950 for 10milion how do you think the current debate
    would be about how the city got ripped off and the consumer has had
    to pay exorbitant paring rates for the last 60year?

  • MgB

    I agree the show format is too short  – no time for in depth or enough variety. Additionally I had a very difficult time understanding Scott. Was his enunciation especially poor on this episode?

  • Virtually86

    You have to be kidding me. Christine Todd Whitman? Was this David H. Koch’s idea? Why can’t you guys interview someone who will tell the truth about the theft of public property? Reagan worshippers who want to privatize everthing they can get their hands on. Look at Blackwater, with it’s huge army of mercenaries making 10 times (or more?) what a front line Marine makes. Saving money? Are we really this stupid? There is no question that the vast majority of “privatization” is simply out-and-out theft. Where is Bill Moyers when we really need him?

  • J7t14r

    The basic problem is the equal sharing of income and labor, a hated idea by all who instinctively aspire to something beyond the mundane confines of life on Earth, which is beyond everyone’s reach, so the financial symbols of wealth and power are the substitute, but the final cost is ecocide and extinction. 

  • Fernly2

    King Midas finally realized the cost of gold was ecocide and extinction. This basic problem has been a long time in solving but we’re working on it. Alexander Hamilton thought he had reached a plateau in his efforts to rebel against monetarism and he died leaving
    a plan written out for a system of credit to be administered by a government with a national bank. We’ve had 2 and may be ready for a third as an alternative to the private central banking system we have that’s bankrupt now anyway. How exciting that we may be on the verge of reinstating Glass-Steagall standards of banking simply because the present system is clearly a failure. ‘Co-operate or join the dinosaurs’ is presented so we find ourselves in a galactic position that requires us to evolve or else. Incredible!

  • Freedog70

    Why would a private company do a better job? They are in it to make a profit – while the government is not! They are surprised to realize that the contracts rob the city blind – helloooo?  How soon we forget! These “investers” are who put us in the situation in the first place! Sure they are here to help us – rob our tax money!

  • Freedog70

    Where is the fairness doctrine? Where is the opposing POV? If you GOPs want’s small government, move to Somalia or Haiti – their government is so small it’s almost non-existent! Who does not want clean water and clean air – I CANNOT believe what is going on in this country! Ron paul wants to ove us back to having Death Gangs! Government is there to “PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE OF THE PEOPLE” – CONSTITUTION – All the GOPS love it, but none of them follow it or even reads it!