There should be a public option for everything

The struggle between capitalism and socialism is back. "America will never be a socialist country," US President Donald Trump tells us, even as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez champion democratic socialism. At the same time, a consensus is growing - from Mr Ray Dalio, the billionaire hedge fund manager, to Mr Joseph Stiglitz, the economist and Nobel Prize winner - that capitalism needs major reforms if it is going to survive. Perhaps surprisingly, given the trend towards the privatisation of public services over the last generation, American history offers a way forward: the public option.

Most Americans probably associate the idea of a public option with healthcare. When the Affordable Care Act was debated in 2010, proponents of a public option wanted anyone to be able to buy into a government health insurance option like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans. But the public option isn't a recent policy innovation, it isn't limited to healthcare and, historically speaking, it hasn't even been particularly controversial as an approach to public policy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2019, with the headline 'There should be a public option for everything'. Print Edition | Subscribe