Let’s examine exactly what it means if Sarah Palin’s (and the GOP Teabagger’s) policies found purchase in our laws. We know from speeches given by Palin, Pawlenty, Santorum, and Bachmann et al, that there are a few basic principles they’d enact should they get into a position of power.
- Reduce the size of Government — that is, privatize as many government services as possible and do away entirely with others
- Undo Regulations — rescind or abolish current laws that govern what business can do
- Maintain (extend or even increase) Tax Cuts, particularly for the wealthiest potential taxpayers
What President Palin would do is cut the federal budget, making sure that we’re crowding out private sector investment. We will cut that spending. We have no choice.
(I doubt she meant that statement about making sure to crowd out private sector investment…) But in this post we’ll examine what it would mean to cut basic services and turn them over to the private sector.
Reduce Goverment (aka privatize)
There are some services that should not, to my mind, ever be “for profit.” Feeding the hungry, for one. Healing the sick, for another. Educating our children, in the broadest sense, for another. Providing for our national defense. Insuring that our research and development efforts in all kinds of areas continue. On and on… once you put a profit motive in there, you bastardize the effort and diminish it until it is just a game for dollars.
Mr. Pawlenty received (well-deserved) criticism for saying that if we can Google a good or a service, the government should not be in the business of providing it.
KUDLOW: What’s your Google test? You’ve got this very interesting part about the Google test and you want to sell off a bunch of assets. Can you quickly tell us about the Google test in the Pawlenty plan?
PAWLENTY: Sure. The premise it, look, if you can go on Google and find a service or a product that’s available in the private sector, then government probably shouldn’t be producing or providing the product.
Here are a just a few government (federal, state, local) services and goods:
- Health Care (Medicare)
- Retirement (Social Security)
Each of these systems (and yes, you can ‘Google’ them all) are mostly under government control and they are not for profit. Each system strives to pay for itself as best it can. There is a strong push to eliminate government efforts in each of these areas. What would happen if we privatized them and made them solely into for-profit enterprises? By definition, privatization invites corruption due to lack of oversight. We can petition the courts for grievances against public institutions, but we have very little recourse against Exxon or Xe or Dow Chemical.
Corporations exist to make profits. They have several avenues to pursue. They can increase prices, reduce quality, reduce quantity, or create desire for a product/service through advertising. Corporations also can enslave their workers in a variety of ways, making sure employees are paid the least amount possible in wages and benefits.
- Health care – Privatizing Medicare means costs would go up, coverage would decrease, and there would be no incentive to cure people or provide preventive advice because that would reduce the billable visits and medications. Drug companies would try to create demand by telling people via advertising to “ask their doctor” about various drugs (they already do!), even in absence of a legitimate diagnosis. And no matter what, we have to pay a for-profit insurance company. I guess that isn’t so bad if you have a lot of money invested in health care enterprises.
- Prisons – Many states are already outsourcing prison facilities. But how do prison corporations make more money? By jailing more people and by making sure that their recidivism rate remains high. That means, no positive programs aimed at returning offenders to society, and advocacy for strict laws and penalties for even non-violent offenses. It means hiring inadequately trained staff, and understaffing and doing whatever you can to do what the state does only cheaper.
- Education – Turning the education of our children over to charter schools and religious organizations and even promoting home schooling has long been a goal of the religious fundamentalists. But once children go to “private” schools, the community at large has little to no say in the curriculum. Who decides whether actual history or revised history is taught? Who can say if ‘intelligent design’ is actually treated as scientific theory? And who, in the end, is accountable for properly educating our children?
- Military – Already, and with great vigor, the Bush II administration turned over large parts of military operations to private companies in Iraq. What happened as a result? We saw out-of-control mercenaries (Blackwater) and poisoned water supplies and shoddy electrical work and sub-standard food and poorly maintained vehicles. We paid dearly for this, both in dollars as well as lives, morale, and international respect. We lost control because the private companies dodged accountability for their actions.
- Infrastructure -Bridges and roads connect us all. When these are privatized, we see tolls and degradation of roadways and bridges. Again, who is then accountable to make sure we can safely travel between Washington, DC, and Des Moines, IA or Salt Lake City, UT? Left to for-profit companies that you could Google, we’d pay hundreds of dollars just to travel 1000 miles across the country in tolls and fees, not counting gas and vehicle repairs.
- Transportation – Speaking of traveling, without non-profit dollars going into high-speed rail and automotive engineering and flight research, we simply would not have any advancement at all in these areas. Privatizing means fewer options and higher costs for consumers. And forget the space program!
- Police/Fire – All too often folks forget that a non-profit law enforcement agency is what we count on for our personal safety and the justice that we know is embedded in the national and state constitutions. Could you imagine a corporation taking over law enforcement? Who would watch the watchers? Or if we had to make an advance payment to the Fire Department in order to get a response when our houses are burning down? “Sorry, you didn’t pay earlier. We’ll watch while your dwelling burns to the ground.”
- Retirement – Throughout our work life we are hired by many different kinds of companies. Some are still able to provide a retirement benefit, but many are not. Yet all employers are mandated to deduct from our wages and add in themselves to a pool of funds to insure that when we retire we at least have minimal benefits based on our years of effort. Privatizing Social Security means that no monies must be set aside. It also means that we have to manage our own retirement account in “the market” with its predictable volatility. So, instead of a guarantee, we get to spin the wheel and take our chances. And we have to pay a broker for the privilege, to boot!
If Sarah Palin had her way, we wouldn’t even have a National Endowment for the Arts, or a National Endowment for the Humanities, or funding for National Public Radio or National Public Television. We probably would privatize zoos, parks, museums and libraries too. After all, history is in the eye of those who edit Wikipedia, and if she says Paul Revere rang bells and shot a rifle to warn the British, who are we to disagree?
Next installment I’ll take a look at what would happen if we abolished regulatory agencies and let “the market” decide what goes.
[Disclaimer: I work for a contractor who has a contract with a major federal government agency — in essence, the government has been allowed to get ‘smaller’ for years now by hiring contractors to do vital work that keeps government running. The problem is, government pays us about double what they would pay if they hired government employees to do the jobs we are doing. Go figure…]
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