Monday, July 01, 2013

Thoughts on Privatization of Public Services

none of which will be original to me, but I think have some worth in bringing together.
First, we need to recognize how broad the tendency of privatizing public services has become -  we have private security forces in lieu of police in some gated communities and in many corporate settings.  Support services for the military,even in combat zones, are now provided by contractors.  Many activities that should be military or other government services are similarly done by contractors, including interrogation of prisoners.  We have private prisons.  We have sold toll roads.  Garbage and recycling is often done by corporations.  Background checks for government clearances, water systems, schools ...  To these I would also add the way we provide health insurance, since unlike Germany we have not as strictly regulated the operation of the companies that provide it.
As we consider this, we should also consider the following.

1.  A corporate entity is less concerned with the level of service provided than it is in maximizing its profits
2.  A corporation is protected in most cases from sunshine laws requiring the disclosure of non-classified activities by government agencies and employees.
3.  In many cases, government employee salaries are a matter of public record (especially in state and local governments), whereas the compensation of  corporate employees is not as transparent (although top executive compensation is accessible for publicly held corporations - it is not for private corporations or for entities not organized as corporations).
3.  The protections the Constitution and its amendments provide against governmental action do not apply when the same action or activity is performed by a non-government entity on behalf of or in lieu of the government.
4.  Once a government has contracted for services by a private/corporate entity, even should political control of that government change, it is exceedingly hard to roll back that service because of the sanctity of contracts.
5.  When government assets are sold off, often for less than what their true value should be, it is usually impossible to reverse that transaction.

This is the context for the assertion I am about to make.

When combined with the increasing legal protections Courts have provided corporate entities, with the ability of corporate entities and their owners to dominate much of the political processes, America is rapidly moving from a democratic republic to a fascist entity which may retain the appearance of democratic operation such as elections, but in practice is no longer functioning as an agent of We the People.

That is a pretty blunt assertion.

I have not said that we ARE already a fascist entity.

I use the term "fascism" more in the model originally expressed in Italy, and this is absent any political ideology with respect to that found in Germany in the first half of the last century.  The real ideology is money, profits for those who can maximize them, with any value that might limit those profits being considered hostile to the interests of those whose political power and economic control over the lives of ordinary people increases.

I do not believe I am offering unfounded conspiratorial theories, nor am I being unnecessarily scary.
We are not there yet.

Nor are we yet a totalitarian state.

We have options still open to us to push back against these tendencies.

But that pushback will not occur unless and until we can accurately name and describe the problem.
I have been teaching either American History or American Government or both since I entered a public school classroom in December of 1995.   I had previously taught in 1973-74.  The trends were barely visible in the early to mid 70s, but by the time I reentered the classroom, they were already well on their way, in part because of the so-called Reagan revolution, in part because the recommendations of the infamous Powell Memorandum had begun to take hold, with well-established organs dedicated to maximizing the influence of the corporate class regardless of its impact upon ordinary people.

Control of education of the masses is a necessary step to advance this agenda.  Thus what happens in schools is of particular importance to watch.  What people learn in their K-12 years is often very hard to reverse:  ask College professors how much reteaching, or if you will, unteaching, of incorrect and inaccurate lessons they must do - in science, perhaps, in history and government very much so.

Control of the military and how it is equipped, trained and used is essential, as a final backstop to guarantee the agenda.  But the military does not need to be turned directly upon the people.  Use it in a constant state of war or near war, direct resources in that direction that profit the corporations and starve other government activities of funds, attack those who would criticize these efforts as being weak on defense, as putting America "at risk" to some enemy real or otherwise, and you are well on your way to suppressing critical thinking that could challenge the direction of what is happening.

Eisenhower spoke to this several times, and it is worth noting that in his farewell remarks his original framing was Military, Industrial, Congressional Complex.  Congressmen and Senators who are dependent upon certain sectors of the economy for the financial support for their continuance in office are major problems, to wit, the likes of a Chuck Schumer protecting Wall Street, a Joe Lieberman protecting the insurance industry, and the myriads of people on both sides of the aisle protecting the military and intelligence contractors who are making billions off the public teat.

When I was growing up, many Navy ships were built by the Navy.  Now a few major shipyards build them all - whether Electric Boat and Bath Iron Works, both owned by General Dynamics, or Ingalls and Newport News, both owned by Huntington Ingalls.

When I was young there were many, many sources of news.  Now a few organizations dominate the mainstream media.

A few banks control most the financial activity in this nation, and seemingly cannot be held accountable either for criminal offenses or for the financial destruction they wreak upon the rest of us.
When security in a combat zone is provided by former special forces personnel who are paid many multiples of what they earned in government service and for whom we pay several multiples of that for their corporate employers, we who have paid for their training to protect and serve us are now paying for the profits of their employers, employers who somehow often not only do not pay corporate taxes, but get tax rebates from the government to further enrich and empower them.  When those taxes are passed on to their wealthy owners, somehow they manage to pay taxes at a lower rate than does the average worker in their corporations -  after all, we have a cap on Social Security taxes, and people pay far less in "capital gains" than we do on our wages.

I wonder what this country could be if the people were truly educated in economics, and not brainwashed - yes, I went there - to believe that capitalism is always the superior path.  Of course, we do not truly have a free market system, because we have from the beginning protected intellectual property by patents and copyrights, we rightly restrict who can enter some professions and business by licensing.  In a true free market system there would be no too big to fail, nor would there be government subsidies of corporate entities at the expense of individual business activities.
Government SHOULD have a role.

There are some services that should be done without respect to a profit motive.
At some point, unless one is concerned with accruing ever more power, there should be sufficiently progressive taxation to prevent the accumulation of wealth and thus power into too few hands.
Instead, we have been moving in the other direction.

Instead, with the accumulation of power to the corporate class, the distortion of the political processes that flow therefrom, the placing of ever-more corporately oriented people into judicial positions, America is being distorted.

Yes, we have gains in some areas, such as marriage equality.  But remember, the same court in the same week further empowered corporations and further restricted the government's ability to protect our ability to vote - note the word in bold because we still do NOT have a constitutional right to vote.

In my mind the starting point to reclaiming America has to be to reclaim the proper role of government in providing services, and to properly taxing those who benefit from those services - including the corporate class.   Ultimately we can make those services less expensive, and certainly we SHOULD be able to make them more responsive to the American people.

Private entities cannot be held responsible the way government is supposed to be.

The government cannot be held responsible if we do not maximize transparency.

Perhaps what will result will not be fascism as we have previously imagined it.

Perhaps it will be something for which we will need to invent new language.

But when the services that should be provided by government for we the people are in private, largely unaccountable hands, hands which increasingly control the government that should be overseeing them, when our rights are merely words on paper because the guarantees do not protect against what these corporate entities do, we can be sure of one thing: we no longer have a liberal democracy, and we will have a republic in name only.

It will be government of Us the Corporate Class, and not We the People of the United States.
Some thoughts for a Saturday.

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