Tunnels in Boston and the private sector as government

I have always felt skeptical about government relying too much on the private sector. The opportunity for the private sector to take advantage of government seems to be too great. Where the private sector must respond to investors and shareholders first, government must respond to the people first. These two populations are rarely the same, nor do they have the same interests; thus a conflict arises when government relies on business to perform some function.

A case in point is the collapse of a section in one of the tunnels of the Big Dig in Boston. The Big Dig is a project designed to move a large portion of Boston’s automobile traffic underground. Earlier this month, a 12-ton section of the roof of one of the tunnels collapsed, crusing a car and killing a motorist. According to the Washington Post, the project is significantly over budget, a contractor is under indictment for providing inferior concrete, and the Big Dig is the subject of state and federal investigations. What was the genesis of the difficulty? The article suggests this:

The warnings were overshadowed, many officials now acknowledge, by zeal among politicians, business leaders, lobbyists and private contractors who had a stake in the project. That eagerness to move forward coincided with a political culture in which a series of Republican governors and the state’s independent turnpike authority have trusted a private consultant to shepherd virtually every facet of the project, with relatively little government supervision. “What was missing from the whole project was outside oversight,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D).

When I read articles such as this I wonder why many insist that the market is superior in providing quality work and goods. I don’t see it. Perhaps because of the “liberal bias” in the media the only things that are reported are the huge singularities like Enron or the Big Dig. Still, I’m less convinced than ever of the ability of the private sector to perform in a manner that is in the public’s best interests.

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