Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Private or Public?

By Tom Kando

At the risk is saying the obvious, I want to talk about private versus public - again.

There is so much bs going on in politics about the alleged evils of “socialism.” There is a total consensus, at least in America, that the only way to make economic progress is to CUT taxes, to unleash the productivity of the free enterprise system, to stifle government, which is wasteful and inefficient, etc, etc. On these things, everyone agrees. Republicans, Democrats, President Obama, governor-elect Jerry Brown, everyone. “Private” reigns supreme. “Public” is an evil word.

Back when I went to college, most reasonable people knew that some of society’s functions properly belong in the private sphere, and some not.

Except for Communists, most of us agreed that the means of production should not be nationalized, i.e. owned and run by the government. We agreed that Capitalism was the right way, as far as industry was concerned.

However, we also knew that society requires many essential services which could not and should not be provided for profit. These include public safety, education, health care, retirement benefits, unemployment compensation, arts and recreation, defense, infrastructure, among others.

Now, there is a push to privatize nearly everything.

Since the 1980s, private prisons and juvenile facilities have multiplied in California, Arizona and other states. This is an abomination.

In education, public schools and universities are being starved for funds. Obviously there should be a place for both private and public schools. But what is developing is an incredibly unfair two-tier system. Those who can afford to send their children to elite, private schools (the two words are synonymous) perpetuate their privilege, while public schools are descending into mediocrity. In Higher Education, even public colleges are becoming prohibitively expensive for many, and increasingly subject to the vagaries of the marketplace, as state funding declines year after year.

Health care: Don’t even get me going on this. The superiority of single-payer, public health care which exists in every other Western country, from Canada to Europe, is a fact.

Old age: When America passed Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, it joined the ranks of the civilized world. Now, Republicans are clamoring for its privatization. Everywhere defined benefits plans are being replaced by defined contributions. Now the retired and the elderly can gamble with their meager old-age safety net!

Arts and Recreation: During the last election, Californians didn’t even have the foresight to vote for an ANNUAL $17.00 (!) fee to save the state park system. What sort of a nation are we becoming? Shall we let Yellowstone, Yosemite and all our other great national treasures perish? Today the budget of the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago. 1.5% (!) of National Public Radio’s budget is public money, yet the know-nothing Right is clamoring to “defund” it.

Even defense is becoming privatized: There are MORE private DOD contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than troops! Our wars are becoming mercenary affairs.

Transportation: To what extent transportation should be for-profit is debatable. We have all learned to live with the airline companies, Greyhound, Amtrak, etc. I personally favor public train systems such as the magnificent French SNCF. But one thing we should all agree on is that the INFRASTRUCTURE is a governmental responsibility. Surely roads, bridges, railroads and airports should be built and maintained at the taxpayer’s expense, no? They are part of the commonweal. Or do you want Interstate 80 and US 50 to become private roads, only accessible for fees?

I suppose this is the culture. We have always been a business culture. And now, with a vengeance. leave comment here