book cover

Noted author Sharon Beder argues persuasively that the track record of electricity privatisation and deregulation around the world indicates that it is a confidence trick. Her book shows how simplistic ideology and economic theory have been used to mask the pursuit of self-interest; how control of electricity has been wrested from public hands to create profit opportunities for investors and multinational corporations; and how an essential public service has been turned into a speculative commodity in the name of ‘reform’.

Power Play explores the battles between private and public ownership in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia since the early twentieth century, and the agenda-setting and public relations strategies involved. It investigates the way that developing countries such as Brazil and India have been forced to allow foreign investors to exercise a stranglehold over their electricity systems. And it uncovers the campaigns waged by think tanks, corporate interests, and multinational companies such as Enron to swindle the public in dozens of countries out of rightful control over an essential public service.


Gabriel Kolko, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at York University

"This is a unique and comprehensive account of the crucial struggle for control over power and electricity, ranging from the United States before 1914, the role of the International Monetary Fund in opposing public ownership, to the shocking practices and consequences of Enron in India and privatization in Brazil during the past decade. Sharon Beder writes with verve and elucidates the arcane aspects of this fundamental and very basic dimension of modern industrial society. At the same time, her research is impeccable.
For a general and comprehensible account of the struggle for control of electrical power, there is no equal to Beder's Power Play. This is an important and readable book."

Ian Lowe, emeritus professor at Griffith University

"This book will make you very angry"

Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz, Dead Cities, and Prisoners of the American Dream

"Beder has written a brilliant global history of the catastrophic consequences of neo-liberal fundamentalism."



Part 1: Power politics in the US before deregulation

  1. Utility Agenda Setting 1900-1925
    The challenge of public power
    Political strategies
    Regulated monopolies
    Holding companies
  2. Power Propaganda between the Wars
    Third parties
    The media
    Friends and allies
  3. Struggles for Control before WWII
    Public utilities
    Californian fight
    Giant power in Pennsylvania
    Rise and stumble of the holding companies
    The Edison Electric Institute
  4. Ongoing Propaganda After the War
    Utility economics
    Cold War politics
    Utilities in trouble
    The Coming of the Environmentalists

    Part 2: The US deregulates and markets rule

  5. Driving Deregulation
    Vested interests
    Ideological support
  6. Deregulation in California
    The power exchange
    Withholding supplies
    Other strategies for manipulating prices
    The power companies
    Bailout blackmail
  7. Federal Politics
    Bush Administration
    Other states
    Ownership issues
    The Official explanation
  8. Enron on the Rise
    Enron services
    Political ties
    Enron and the environmental lobby
    Globalisation Enron-style
  9. Enron in Trouble
    Enron accounting tricks
    Conflicts of interest
    Enron on the skids
    Enron not unique

    Part 3: The British Experiment

  10. Electricity Supply 1900-1980
    Municipal vs Private Control
    Legislative Reforms
  11. The Ideology and Rhetoric of Privatisation
    Think tanks and the rise of Thatcher
    Privatisation of electricity
  12. Privatisation in Practice
    The power pool
    Mergers and acquisitions
    Technological change

    Part 4: Australia: A Dedicated Follower of Fashion

  13. Privatisation in Victoria
    Business Groups and Think Tanks
    Project Victoria
    Electricity Privatisation
    Privatisation In Practice
  14. The National Electricity Market
    National Market
    Manipulation South Australia
    Consequences in South Australia
  15. Australia-Wide Deregulation
    New South Wales
    Other States
    Winners and Losers

    Part 5: Free Markets to Far Flung Corners

  16. International Pressure to Privatise
    The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
    Development Banks and Foreign Aid
    Who Benefits?
  17. Independent Power Producers
    Banks and Credit Agencies
    Capital market liberalisation
  18. Enron in India
    Terms of agreement
    American influence
    The end of Dabhol?
  19. Brazil Privatisation
    Lack of new generating capacity
    Energy Crisis

    Conclusion: The Great Electric Confidence Trick