In the US, the mere discussion of raising taxes by politicians is considered political suicide. Yet, nationalizing infrastructure and industries as an alternative is rarely, if ever, discussed as an alternative.

Had the US nationalized the internet early on, for instance, it would've resulted in a massive windfall of revenue for the government as well as creating jobs. You would also expect it to be popular among politicians, since the generated revenue helps cover their salaries as well as fund programs they support.

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    "Early on" hindsight is 20-20. Plenty of economists in the 90's and 00's didn't think the Internet would be anything more than a curiosity, and they probably would have been right if HTTPS wasn't invented to make private transactions easy. This of course was around the same time the USG was trying to prevent export of strong cryptography HTTPS depends on. Commented Jun 23 at 21:37
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    In the US only communists nationalise anything. It's axiomatic for about 50% of the population that government does everything less efficiently than private industry (evidence notwithstanding). Commented Jun 24 at 0:34
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    "Had the US nationalized the internet" - The opposite happened. The internet was a US national organization, with DARPA and the Department of Commerce at its center and a number of universities as contractors. It was privatized during the Clinton administration
    – ccprog
    Commented Jun 24 at 12:30
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    To build on @DJClayworth's comment. The basic concept of not being a communist / socialist government is why. Private ownership of industry is critical to how the US became so productive. Name anything that the government has been longterm more efficient than the private sector. Anything? The internet isn't just the backbone and the standards. Even then the private sector brought both forward faster than the government ever has shown a propensity. For example, before the government got into the healthcare business, shouldn't they've fixed the VA first? No? Why not?
    – DogBoy37
    Commented Jun 24 at 14:09
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    @StuartF I think they mean the government would be the ISP, and instead of paying Comcast et al for your Internet connection, you would pay the feds.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 24 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


If you consider the various historical instances of nationalization in the US and similar industrial countries, I doubt you'll find any cases where telecommunications or transportation infrastructure has ever been nationalized for the purpose of revenue generation.

As at least one comment has already pointed out, that's because taxation is a thing. There is no direct relationship between ownership and revenue.

The nationalizations that do happen in advanced economies are generally related to wartime emergencies or major private sector failures in strategic sectors like banking. Recent banking crises did produce discussions about nationalization but only extremely limited policy gestures in that direction.

For the US to have kept the major Internet infrastructure under public control would have been a surprisingly unorthodox move. Even the most interventionist European countries haven't done that as far as I know. There are many municipal wireless networks in the United States, but I've seen no serious argument for doing this on a national scale.


Mainly, because the US has traditionally favored a market-driven approach to industries, relying on competition and private investment to drive innovation and efficiency. The idea of nationalizing key industries like the internet would face significant opposition from proponents of free-market principles as government intervention could stifle innovation and efficiency.

Moreover, if the U.S. wanted to generate revenues, it could simply invest in a broad index fund like an ETF and get more revenues that way.


A Republic's Government Is Not, And Must Not, Be A Business.

The United States is established as a republic. In a republic, the role of the government is strictly limited to those activities which are necessary to protect and foster the wellbeing of common infrastructure, broadly construed. Republics are essentially a form of trust (in the property sense) with the government of that republic the trustee. Trustees have fiduciary responsibilities - they must hold the wellbeing of the beneficiaries (the public at large) above their own. Profit motive is antithetical to those responsibilities and creates a conflict of interest prima facie.

Nationalization of infrastructure for the purpose of producing a sustainable stream of revenue necessarily involves a deviation from the role of trustee. The needs of the revenue stream come to take a superior priority to the beneficiaries' well being whenever they are in conflict (or the revenue stream is unsustainable).

Because it is necessarily limited to only that collection of revenue that is defensible in the eyes of the electorate and necessary for the fiduciary to carry out its mandate, taxation avoids the need for a profit motive. This is why government corporations don't turn profits except by accident.

Use fees (ticket prices, postage, licensing fees, etc) often get mistaken for sales as if the issuing entity were a business because of the format they take and how they are warned, but their purpose is not to derive profit but instead to defray the costs of providing the service and also to more accurately target users of a given system for taxation.

It is true that the government, especially at the Federal level, virtually always has an investment portfolio but its contents are the result of various policy failures and are transitory in nature; the government will seek to liquidate them at the earliest opportunity that benefits the citizens of the republic.

TL;DR Profit motive has no place in the governance of a republic and runs contrary to its definitional principles. Nationalization for purposes of revenue necessarily requires the gov't to take on the role of profit-seeking businessperson, which creates an intolerable conflict of interest.

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