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Public power 

In the online magazine Slate, Daniel Gross tells the story of the Montana Public Power Authority -- the attempt by Montana mayors to take over the state's power company. It's a well-written article, with lots of background in one place. And it's got a great view of the developments.

Yes, Gross says, Montana municipalities may do a lousy job of managing a power company. This is the sort of thing that conventional wisdom says can and should be done by the private sector. But, Gross says, it'd be tough to run the company worse than Montana Power/Touch America and Northwestern have. How does the public punish massive incompetence when a utility is a regulated monopoly (and, I might add, when it owned the 1990s legislature)?

The sad truth is that no matter how hard you try to unleash market forces, most utilities are not free markets. They need to be managed under a different philosophy. Perhaps the privatization pendulum has finally swung to its endpoint -- and Montana mayors are marking its return to the middle.

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