The United States has had less success with privatization because of the commitment of liberal Democrats and some Republicans to big government. Still, President Ronald Reagan was able to sell off the Conrail freight railroad in 1987 for $1.7 billion. The year before, the Alaska Power Administration was privatized. The federal helium reserve was sold for $1.8 billion in 1996. The Elks Hill Petroleum Reserve was sold in 1997 for $3.7 billion. And in 1998, the U.S. Enrichment Corporation, which provides enriched uranium to the nuclear industry, was privatized for $3.1 billion.
Here's a shocker: The Office of Management and Budget has calculated that about half of all federal employees do work that is not "inherently governmental." The CATO Institute has done an excellent study into what federal agencies and programs could be sold to private firms. CATO's Chris Edwards writes of the benefits of privatization: "First, sales of federal assets would cut the budget deficit. Second, privatization would reduce the responsibilities of government so that policymakers could better focus on their core responsibilities, such as national security. Third, there is vast foreign privatization experience that could be drawn on in pursuing U.S. reforms. Fourth, privatization would spur economic growth by opening new markets to entrepreneurs."
Edwards says selling off the postal monopoly would bring innovation to the mail industry, just as the 1980s breakup of AT&T transformed the field of telecommunications. That's just for starters. CATO says at the end of fiscal 2007, the federal government held $12 trillion in buildings and equipment, $277 billion in inventory, $919 billion in land, and $392 billion in mineral rights. Surely it doesn't need all -- or even most -- of that.
While the federal government grows and pays its workers more than the private sector, if Gov. Christie can reduce the size and cost of state government, he -- along with Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell, who has similar goals -- could change government as we know it back to what the Founders envisioned: small government that protects personal liberty.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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