At the founding of the American Republic the word “private” had pejorative connotations. Derived from the Latin word “privare”, private meant to divide or tear apart. A privateer was a pirate. The word “public” was an honorable adjective, often found in the phrase “public good”.
In 1776 John Adams wrote, “There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest… and this public passion must be superior to all private passions.” In the first 150 years of the new republic, in fits and starts, we expanded the public realm even as we also dramatically increased our standard of living. The road system, at first privatized, became public. We established a nationwide, localized system of free public education. We created a national network of free public libraries. Municipal water and transit systems, at first private, became public. In the 1930s we expanded the concept of a public good and a public asset to the idea of social insurance with programs like unemployment insurance and social security and in the 1960s Medicare.
Today the public sector is under attack. Indeed our very language has changed. The “private” is glorified while the word “public” has become the pejorative, especially its current synonym, “government”.
The verb form of the word private, “privatizing” has gained wide currency and is embraced for everything from the post office to social security to libraries, to the military.
Today there is a wild imbalance between those who favor protecting public assets and those who do not, between those who believe the public should take priority over the private, and those who do not, between those who would emphasize the “we” over the “me” and those who would not.
This initiative is a response to this imbalance.