Privatization has become a permanent and increasingly significant fixture on the landscape of contemporary public policy. Federal, state, and local governments now turn to the private sector for everything from collecting neighborhood garbage to assisting in the occupation of Iraq. As Martha Minow recently noted, "a sea change is at work," with "[p]rivate and market-style mechanisms.., increasingly employed to provide what government had taken as duties." Nowhere is this trend more pronounced, and contested, than in the privatization of social welfare. In that arena, privatization's potential to harness the experience, efficiency, and diversity of the private sector sharply clashes with the risk to accountability raised by private-sector provision of public services.

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