Reviewing Michael Lewis's new book The Fifth Risk, New York Times critic Jennifer Szalai writes that Lewis renders "even the most abstruse details of government risk assessment in the clearest (and therefore most terrifying) terms. He asks a handful of former public servants, now living as private civilians, what they fear might happen if Trump continues his haphazard approach to staffing the federal government. Their answers include an accidental nuclear catastrophe and the privatization of public goods, like government loans and drinking water."
It's not clear to me what the Times even means here by the "privatization" of "government loans." Loans to the U.S. government, in the form of savings bonds or Treasury bills, have long been made by private individuals and firms. Loans backed by the U.S. government, such as Small Business Administration loans or Federal Housing Administration loans, have long been made through private lenders, such as banks. As for drinking water, it, too, is available from private companies, both those selling bottled water such as Poland Spring and those providing it through pipes and taps; private water companies already serve about 73 million Americans. Neither of those developments seems exactly "terrifying" or to belong in the same sentence as an "accidentally nuclear catastrophe."
The Times review goes on:
Trump has repeatedly placed essential agencies under the leadership of individuals who have previously called for the elimination of the same agency, or else a radical limit to its authority.
Take, for example, Barry Myers, Trump's nominee for the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Myers also happens to be chief executive of AccuWeather, his family's company. As a private citizen, Myers lobbied to prevent NOAA's National Weather Service from having direct contact with the public, saying that "the government should get out of the forecasting business" — despite the fact that AccuWeather repackaged free government weather data and sold it for a profit.
With Myers in charge, Lewis says "the dystopic endgame is not difficult to predict: the day you get only the weather forecast you pay for."
That's pretty amusing, given that the same New York Times newspaper that runs the book review carries, on an inside page, a weather report featuring "meteorology by AccuWeather." If AccuWeather is repackaging free government weather data and selling it for a profit, the New York Times is repackaging AccuWeather data and selling that for a profit. Dystopic?
If there's a common thread here it seems to be a hostility to or suspicion of profits and private enterprise. It's not clear if the source of that hostility or suspicion is the Times reviewer or Mr. Lewis, but either way it it's less argued than assumed or asserted, which is frustrating for a reader who doesn't share the assumption.