The Trump administration wants to finance “far more” infrastructure privately, but private investors could ignore many critical needs [“Worries grow over infrastructure plan,” Economy & Business, June 10]. The building of electricity infrastructure in the first third of the 20th century suggests the danger.
Private capital, aided by the amassing of individual utilities into huge holding companies, brought electricity to most Americans. But the profit motive resulted in exceptional returns for a few owners at the top of the holding companies, smaller rate reductions for consumers than technological progress warranted and the denial of service to 90 percent of rural Americans.
During the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported private utilities but argued for public power as a yardstick by which to measure their rates. He also sought to break up the holding companies and provide support for rural electrification.
Titanic battles, fought in Congress, the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion, yielded a hybrid system that eliminated the worst abuses of utilities while preserving a largely private industry.
John A. Riggs, Washington