Privatisation or outsourcing: the ideologues of these tendencies argue with perfectly straight faces that they entail reductions of the state. Sell off electricity, public transport, education, water, medical care – each one is not the state’s concern, and will be undertaken more efficiently by the ‘private sector’. Or put out for tender state tasks such as aged care, job-seeking, postal services and whatnot and then give them state money to do the job. These days, religious bodies have also reconfigured themselves as private suppliers of ‘services’. So they offer aged care and education, medicine and relationship counselling, all in exchange for state contracts. So it should be, argue the ideologues. These are not the business of the state. Even opponents buy that line, so they try to resist outsourcing and privatisation.

By contrast, outsourcing and privatisation are actually extensions of the state. How so? Capitalism requires strong states to operate, to provide infrastructure, strongly policed borders and interiors, and so on. And a strong state is a big state, pervading all aspects of life. So when you have outsourcing, it entails yet further extension of the tentacles of the state. Outsourcing requires a whole spate of rules, guidelines, controls, reports. These are determined by the state: if it hands over money for such services, it sets the rules. The same applies to privatisation: in exchange for a big wad of cash, the state sets the conditions for how the various ‘enterprises’ should be run. Water must be delivered, sewerage must be sucked away, trains must run on time …

In other words, the continued neoliberal push for outsourcing and privatisation is actually a push to the biggest state of all. But this entails another paradox: those who argue that the state should keep control of these activities, and even take over banks, mining, large businesses, and so on, are actually arguing for a smaller state.