One of the big constant news stories recently has been about UK water utilities constantly flushing untreated sewage into the rivers and oceans near the UK, while raising prices, paying huge salaries to their executives and massive dividends. One solution is to take them back into public ownership.

But another possibility is to make the mutual companies. I worked for a mutual insurance company for a while, and helped it de-mutualize, at which point its prices went up, employees were treated worse, executives made more money and so on.

In a mutual companies, customers own the company. Dividends are paid to the customers. Prices tend to be lower than in stock companies (there’s plenty of research on this), employees are treated well and executives make less. Since customers own the company, they have a say in what the company does, and since customers of, say, water companies wouldn’t want sewage in the water or forest fires (for electrical companies like California’s PG&E) they might prove better for environmental concerns and also for customer service. Also a lot less likely to get situations where the customers water is full of lead and other pollutants.

There used to be a lot of mutual companies, but most of the de-mutualized because executives wanted to pay themselves more, especially thru stock grants and so on, but if a law was put in place that utilities and other public companies like railways and public transit are either public or mutual and can’t be stock companies, that might cure a lot of problems, especially if the owners(customers) have to approve executive salaries.

Worth a try, at any rate, though I’m aware of the political problems.

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