This article investigates and discusses privatization and out-sourcing of various state enterprises, regarded as a political problem. The aim is to show that the contradiction between public and private organization, is not a modern phenomena, rather a question that has permeated political discourse even in pre-modern times. Theoretically, the study draws on Janet Newman and John Clarkes work on how “publicness” – defined as a consciousness about the meaning of the public – has constructed discursive chains. These chains merge conceptions of the political community, the organization of the enterprise, and values of the common good. The example used in the study is the debate about the organization of the Swedish customs service in the early 1700s.
The analysis shows that the Swedish diet in 1723 was divided about the organization of the customs services. Some members of the diet thought that the customs should stay under state governance; some thought that a private entrepreneur should be engaged via a lease contract. The conflict between the two parts led to fierce debates at the diet, each side hurling arguments for their opinion. Those in favor for state service, considered the private entrepreneurs to be selfish and greedy; those arguing for a lease contract, considered the state servants to be sloppy and inefficient.
The debate about the customs service in 1723 have proven that the discursive chains, derived from Newman and Clarke, were in place also in the politics of eighteenth century Sweden. The most prominent aspect in the customs debate is the linkage of the publicness to a specific form of organization – in this example public or private. These findings have briefly been compared to previous research on Sweden in the 1600s, and the debate in 1723 thus provides examples of discursive changes, but also of continuity of the arguments given.
Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2014. 57-74 p.