In This Review

Power Play: The Fight to Control the World's Electricity
Power Play: The Fight to Control the World's Electricity
By Sharon Beder
New Press, 2003, 336 pp

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, electricity was a luxury; now, it is an essential part of modern economies and societies. Throughout this history, the control of electricity generation and distribution has sparked considerable controversy. In the past 15 years, such controversy has centered on a wave of deregulation and privatization. This book, by an Australian academic with the instinct of a muckraker, is an expose of the ideology, unfounded claims, and corporate interest that drove such widespread privatization. It asserts that electricity rates for private homes and small businesses have increased, service has deteriorated, peak capacity has declined, and corporate profits and bankers' fees have grown considerably. Beder unfortunately relies too much on secondary sources, emphasizing colorful stories over systematic analysis. There is, for example, much on Enron's controversial contracts in India but nothing on the truly awful state of India's state-run power system. In any case, the results of privatization have clearly been far worse than its advocates claim; this book starts to examine why.