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Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Privatization: What's ours is Theirs

by Tom Sullivan

The small-government crowd never cared about the size of government. They only ever cared about into whose pockets government tax dollars flowed. So it always raises a chuckle to hear the Grover Norquists of the world talk about taxes as theft, "confiscatory taxes," etc. One can hear from the same crowd that the market-based private sector is always – always – more efficient at delivering services than "collectivist" gummint. (Grab your wallet and update your resume when they start using the word efficient.)

More efficient at getting taxpayers to subsidize their bottom lines? More efficient at profiting from infrastructure built with public funds? Damn right. Because there's nothing government can do on a not-for-profit basis that can't be done more efficiently at a stiff markup to the taxpayer. Just the skim off the old milk, the middleman in every middle school.

Talking Points Memo (TPM) has begun a series entitled The Hidden History of the Privatization of Everything sponsored by the National Education Association. Because the NEA knows that privatization is another word for FIRED!

I've written a lot about privatization here and here and here and here and here. Everything from schools to roads and bridges to prisons to water systems. War has largely been privatized as well. But what with our colonial history, we still shun the term mercenaries when describing whom we hire to support our overseas adventures.

TPM has just rolled out Part 1. President Reagan put forward "more privatization proposals than any president had ever recommended," but with a Democratic Congress succeeded only in privatizing Conrail:

In 1985, a group of large firms created the Privatization Council. The driving forces were David Seader and Stephen M. Sorett, the privatization coordinator for Touche Ross & Co. a top-tier consulting firm that became Deloitte and Touche in 1989. Touche was involved because it wanted to change the tax codes standing in the way of private municipal sewerage work. Seader went on to lead the Privatization and Infrastructure Group of Price Waterhouse, the global consulting and accounting firm. (The Council was renamed the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships – a less politically charged term than privatization – in the early 1990s).

By 1990, The Privatization Council boasted 150 members, a who’s who of consulting firms, corporations, and industry associations that had their sights on contracting opportunities in water treatment, transit, prisons, trash pickup, airports and finance.

The other significant corporate voice came in through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which increased and operationalized corporate involvement in moving state-level privatization policy.

ALEC put together working groups of corporations, think tanks, and legislators, like one that brought together the Reason Foundation’s director of the Local Government Center, Heritage’s Stuart Butler, Seader from the Privatization Council, a private prison company (Corrections Associates, Inc.) and the National Solid Wastes Management Association to set priorities and draft legislation to make it easier to outsource public services. ALEC, too, has been funded by right-wing foundations like Scaife and Coors as well as major American corporations, some/many of which had an eye on public contracts.
What's behind the push to privatize? Smaller government? Lower taxes? Freedom? Nah. (Emphasis mine):
Today, privatization is weakening democratic public control over vital public goods, expanding corporate power and increasing economic and political inequality. Domestic and global corporations and Wall Street investors covet the $6 trillion in local, state and federal annual public spending on schools, prisons, water systems, transit systems, roads, bridges and much more.

A new pro-public movement, with this history in mind, is growing quickly. It has become clear that the 40-year conservative assault on government is enriching some and leaving more and more Americans behind. Groups across the country are organizing and starting to see success. Water systems are being remunicipalized, private prison companies are losing contracts (and both Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to end for-profit incarceration), and a growing movement is focused on rebuilding our national commitment to public education. Over the last 40 years, private interests have gained control over important public goods and the impacts are clear. The next 40 years are ripe with opportunity to put the public solidly back in control.
They covet what's ours.