According to Joseph Heath, privatizations should be judged on a case-by-case basis with appeal to the Pareto criterion. This approach, or so I argue, amounts to a depoliticization of privatization. While Heath’s approach is effective and at times illuminating, I show that a consistent application of his methodology is self-defeating in that it eventually requires a politicization of privatization. With appeal to transaction cost theory, I show there are social costs associated with affirming the competitive pressures of the market. Subsequently, I argue that while private actors may, according to Heath, pursue efficiency with appeal to an adversarial morality, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are much more constrained in how they may achieve such gains. Due to the pressures of liberal neutrality, SOEs may chase efficiency only without setting actors back. Conversely, the private sector’s potential for success is predicated on its ability to compete for Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, which specifically allows for win-lose interactions. While SOEs are often no more able than the private sector to achieve Pareto optima, this discrepancy makes it so that SOEs produce gains that are ex-ante lower but more equal, whereas the private sector produces gains that are ex-ante higher but more unequal. Thus, the social cost of affirming the competitive pressures of the market is ex-ante inequality. If this premise is accepted, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that a consistent case-by-case approach requires a structural, political view on how privatizations affect the state’s ex-post Pareto-enhancing abilities.
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