The title of this rant is not as snarky as it would appear. Over the past 30 years since the reign of Ronald of Reagan the first, there has been a concerted effort from the business community to “privatize” numerous traditional government services and resources. This effort of course has a lot of money behind it from billionaires such as the Koch brothers through their front organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Freedom Works to name but a few. It’s quite simple, take something that is part of or is ran by the government, take control of it and earn a profit from it because it is still a needed service. What’s more, not only have they privatized these resources and services, they’ve done so via a monopoly. Thus, they are the only game in town. This isn’t capitalism because no free market exists. It is in fact Oligarchy. Another term for it is Fascism.
It all begins with “The Commons.” You need to understand this concept to understand what has been happening in this country over the past several years. Commons refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. The resources held in common can include everything from natural resources and common land to software. The commons contains public property and private property, over which people have certain traditional rights. When commonly held property is transformed into private property this process alternatively is termed “enclosure” or more commonly, “privatization.” A person who has a right in, or over, common land jointly with another or others is called a commoner.
Examples of the commons would include the air, water, public parks, road system, public delivery systems, public schools, etc. They are considered to be part of the commons because they are essential and are used by the people. In a sense, our National Government, a government that Abraham Lincoln described as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” is the manifestation of the Commons. We all own the government and this government has the responsibility to the people who theoretically control it.
So government services are part of the Commons. This would include police, military, schools, social services, the Courts, the prisons, the docks, the interstate highway system, all used and controlled by the people through their representative government. It is done is such a way that the taxes needed to run these systems are spent in an as efficient way as possible for the greater return on the money spent. If not done so, the people can respond by going to the government that they run and demand redress and correction. This is how it has been since our founding. However, seeing the potential profit involved by taking these services and institutions needed by the people away from government and privatized, many of these services have been corrupted. You can’t approach a corporation for redress like you can your government.
It started slow and harmlessly enough. Our constitution actually provides for “Postal Roads” for delivery of the mail, over time this was the impetus to create a road system that connected communities and states. They were built with government funds and maintained by the government. Some took it upon themselves to build and open “toll roads”. They did so by buying up the rights to the lands involved and agree to maintain these roads. They are also allowed to of course charge a toll for using these roads to fund the maintenance. This took a burden off the state, gave it to the private sector and in theory saved the state money. However the state still maintained public road systems that ran parallel to the toll systems. Though not as well maintained or quick as the toll system, they were free for those who couldn’t afford to pay to drive. It was a balance that was accepted. The railroads used the government to take control of lands to build the nations railroad system. For the most part, these were private industries that used private lands to ship people and material across the nation for a cost. However, they had a unique relationship with government where even though the owners made profits over the endeavor, the Federal government had some control and leverage ensuring people were safe and it was affordable to use.
The electric grid and water delivery systems were and are a mutual effort between government and private sources. Most water delivery systems are ran by local governments for water that is still very much a part of the commons. After all, no one can survive without water. Delivering that water does cost money to maintain the infrastructure. It is paid for via taxes and or fees to the delivery systems that are either publicly owned or are private entities enjoying special privileges with local government ensuring the people aren’t left dry. It is concerning that the President of Nestle is actually on record advocating the privatization of the water supply, not the delivery system. The way things have been going, he could get away with it.
Time to get to the focus of this rant, government services.
As I mentioned above, government services, those things government does for the people who consent to their rule are part of the commons. This includes police, military, fire-fighting, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Schools, Head Start, EPA, FDA, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ATF, the list goes on. If these agencies fail to meet the standards of the people who they are in place to serve, we have the constitutional right to redress our grievances with government for correction.
However, if these services were to be provided by private sector sources, we have no such right. At best, you need to hire an attorney and file suit in Court. What has made matters worse is a recent Supreme Court Decision that limits the ability to file class action lawsuits. So if a Corporation with billions did something wrong that impacted you, it’s your ability to pay for attorneys versus theirs. Not an easy endeavor.
Time was fire fighters were almost exclusively private sector institutions. Some volunteer and government operated systems were in place to put out fires no matter what. However like in Chicago during the Great Fire, the various Fire Departments would only respond to those who paid for their services first. We know what happened. Recently fire departments have started to go back to being privately owned. There have been recent incidents where a home has caught fire but because the owner didn’t pay their dues to the department, the home was left to burn, endangering the neighbors nearby.
The most discussed privatization of government services you will see on blogs, twitter and the like is the Prison system.
Traditionally the prisons were built and ran by the government. Taxes and fines paid for the operation. Then the private prison corporations came into being. They went to Governors of various states and convinced them they could house and control inmates for less cost per inmate and that they should be given title to the existing prisons or build new ones to house them. Of course in order to stay in business, unlike government run institutions, private prisons must make a profit to operate and get more investments from stockholders.
So they cut costs in security, medical care, psychological treatment, and training of staff. All things to squeeze a profit out of the tax dollars per inmate they take in. But it didn’t stop there.
Using ALEC, they sponsored laws that resulted in the Courts having no choice but to place more people in Prison for “crimes” that never really carried time before. The most infamous example of this is in my home state of Arizona. The infamous SB1070 law otherwise known as the “Papers Please” law, in reality had nothing to do with curbing illegal immigration. It was written by ALEC, pushed by the prison corporation folks to State Senator Russell Pearce, Governor Jan Brewer and others to permit local Sheriff’s like Joe Arpiao to arrest “undocumented” aliens he couldn’t arrest before and house them in new prisons especially created for this law.
More people in prison at more cost to the Arizona Tax Payer. This law was pushed in other States for the same reason. There was a population of people who weren’t being housed at tax payer expense before because there was truly no reason for it. If they committed an actually criminal offense they could be housed for that. This forced incarceration on them for simply being here without papers.
The prison corporations have been over the years pushing for mandatory prison sentences for crimes that never carried imprisonment before in order to fill beds and get more money from the tax payer. Once the beds are filled, security is lax, treatment is sub humane and these people come out far worse than they went in. This, along with the “War on Drugs” is the major reason why our country has more people behind bars per capita than any other country on Earth.
Then there is the military.
Time was, the military clothed, fed and took care of itself when in any war theatre. They were trained to build barracks, cook food, provide medical care, and do their own security both here and abroad. That changed when the Federal Government began to privatize military support services. Instead of these people taking care of themselves, private contractors, who cost the government far more than the military charged itself came in to build barracks and bases, feed and secure military personnel.
Infamously was the time military personnel were electrocuted in a shower build by one of these contractors. Keep in mind that under Bush/Cheney, these contractors got these cushy assignments on no-bid contracts. Their work was shoddy, expensive, poorly distributed and even resulted in death. Further, under law the soldiers had no recourse to address these issues in Court or with the owners of these companies. They were immune from criminal and civil liabilities. Attempts to change this in Congress were thwarted by those representatives who got campaign contributions from these no bid contractors. They were and are more expensive than traditional use of military personnel for these services and what’s more not as good in providing services. All of this costs the tax payer more money for worse results.
Then there are the Intelligence Services.
What can be said? Our nation has secrets that need to be kept for our national security, we have operations around the world to gather and analyze intelligence to warn and protect us from potential terroristic threats both here and abroad. This was once the total venue of the Federal Government. Then they decided to bring private contractors into the fold. It wasn’t a cost saving endeavor because the known budgets for these services have skyrocketed as had the number of people no longer answerable directly to our government but only to their corporate heads, who now have top security clearance.
Enter Edward Snowden. An employee of a private contractor, not vetted or controlled by anyone in government, not answerable to anyone outside of his company, who was able to gain access to top security material and leave with it. He hasn’t been the only one. How has privatization of intelligence services saved the tax payers any money or made us more secure and safe? It has done quite the opposite as had every instance where government services have been taken away from government and privatized for the profit of a handful of CEOs, Corporate owners and stockholders.
It’s a simple paradigm, to make profit you need to reduce cost and increase revenue. You reduce costs by cutting corners, removing safeguards, redundancies, etc and you increase revenues by finding ways of getting the customer base to pay you more while you provide less. As tax payers we are the customer base, there is a lot of money that is collected by us that private industry would love to get their hands on for more profit. When government provides these services they do so in as efficient way as possible providing the most bang for the buck and hopefully getting a return on the investment that is used to make the system even better. Private Industry in profit driven, their goal is to get the most buck from whatever they do regardless of quality of service. Profits rule and anything that cuts into profit is frowned upon by the stockholders.
This is where we are with the growing privatization of government services.
Privatize schools; fewer children get the proper education for the costs involved.
Privatize Medicare/Medicaid fewer patients get quality care for the costs involved because medical care is expensive and trying to squeeze a profit out of it only makes it even more expensive.
Privatize Social Security the only people guaranteed to make money are the Wall Street types who trade your money in speculative transactions in order to make themselves a profit on your tax dollars.
Privatize prisons you end up with more people in prison costing tax payers more to house them time and time again because they are treated so poorly they recidivate even more.
Privatize fire departments then fires have a greater chance of spreading because not every property is paying dues directly to the company running the department.
Privatize military; you pay more to CEOs and contractors and less to the very people who put their lives on the line defending you.
Privatize intelligence services; you get less intelligence, more leaks and a bigger bill at the end.
This trend must stop.
Capitalism and the private sector have plenty to occupy their time with. Building cars, televisions, appliances, and big ticket items in a free market is a good thing and no government can compete in that. That is communism and it is a proven failure. However privatization of government services, those things we need to rely upon at the best cost and the best overall service, the commons are best left to Government. Government has no profit margin to adhere by, only the satisfaction and needs of the governed who are able to bring redress immediately back to them. To allow continued privatization of government services has two names, Oligarchy and Fascism, private industry control of government and the nation. This must end. We need to reverse what has already begun; it’s time to nationalize our Federal Government for the people of this country and their well-being.
I’ll discuss Nationalizing Koch Industries in another rant. This is a poor attempt on my part to try to explain this situation, but it does exist and it does concern me. The facts of this phenomenon are out there for all of you to read and digest. Hopefully some true journalists will bring this to the forefront in a better way than I have. Thanks for reading.