A solution to inequalities wherever we look—in health care, secure retirement, education—is as close as the public library. Or the post office, community pool, or local elementary school. Public options—reasonably priced government-provided services that coexist with private options—are all around us, ready to increase opportunity, expand freedom, and reawaken civic engagement if we will only let them.
Whenever you go to your local public library, send mail via the post office, or visit Yosemite, you are taking advantage of a longstanding American tradition: the public option. Some of the most useful and beloved institutions in American life are public options—yet they are seldom celebrated as such. These government-supported opportunities coexist peaceably alongside private options, ensuring equal access and expanding opportunity for all.
Ganesh Sitaraman and Anne Alstott challenge decades of received wisdom about the proper role of government and consider the vast improvements that could come from the expansion of public options. Far from illustrating the impossibility of effective government services, as their critics claim, public options hold the potential to transform American civic life, offering a wealth of solutions to seemingly intractable problems, from housing shortages to the escalating cost of health care.
Imagine a low-cost, high-quality public option for child care. Or an extension of the excellent Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees to all Americans. Or every person having access to an account at the Federal Reserve Bank, with no fees and no minimums. From broadband internet to higher education, The Public Option reveals smart new ways to meet pressing public needs while spurring healthy competition. More effective than vouchers or tax credits, public options could offer us all fairer choices and greater security.
We are so accustomed to arguments that government only infringes upon freedom that we forget how government, when intelligently deployed, can expand our choices—and yes, make us more free. In this important book Ganesh Sitaraman and Anne Alstott make a brilliant, clear, and accessible case for how public options in areas such as banking, health care, and child care can improve lives, especially for those whom the marketplace marginalizes. We already celebrate many public options, such as our great public universities and libraries. Sitaraman and Alstott urge us to think inventively about other areas where public options could make our nation both better and fairer.
Timely, important, and convincing, this book is pretty much the definition of ‘fresh thinking.’ Key reading for a political generation that is on the search for new ideas for old problems.
At a time of widespread debates about the role of public provision, Sitaraman and Alstott make a vibrant case for developing and preserving public options in education, health care, child care, broadband access, banking, and retirement benefits. To get beyond slogans and move toward real and practical proposals to improve the daily lives of Americans, and strengthen our commitments to others, read this book.
In this timely and stirring call for reform, two of our nation’s smartest policy thinkers recapture our past to chart our future. Sitaraman and Alstott remind us that Americans have long supported policies that offer a choice between government and the private sector, and they show us how this model—the public option—could provide innovative solutions to perennial challenges facing child care, retirement savings, higher education, and much more.
Filled with ingenious ideas for strengthening the public sector and also bolstering our democracy…Demonstrate[s] that true public institutions, such as public schools and public child care, are more efficient as well as more equitable than private ones trying to carry out public purposes.
I hope every 2020 presidential candidate—yes, I’m being optimistic about President Trump—reads the policy book of the summer… The two law professors are not interested in government taking over everything. On the contrary, what they seek is to expand choice.
Their proposal is not that the public sector should displace the private sector, but rather that offering a publicly-run alternative would expand everyone’s choices and ensure that no one is left too far behind.
An enthusiastic, accessible, and convincing case that more ‘public option’ government services would significantly improve the quality of life for average Americans.
Makes a compelling case for affordable government-funded services that coexist with private options.
- 296 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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