Saturday, November 05, 2005

When They Say 'Privatization', Run For Your Life!

In recent years, much has been made of the 'waste and fraud' of government programs, and how much better off we'd all be if we privatized them instead. "Run the government like a business", they say. Or, better yet, substitute government programs with private-sector companies. That way, the current 'wisdom' goes, attention will have to be paid to the bottom line, healthy competition will occur, and the 'waste and fraud' will magically disappear.


And I'm a card-carrying member of the Concerned Women of America.

When I hear the word 'privatization' these days, I start eyeing the exits with my suitcase in my hand. I know that robbery is not far off. And, of course, our Fearful Leader, undaunted by the stinking pit of his approval ratings and the ugly black cloud of indictments and corruption hanging over his Residency, is acting like he has since he was selected - like he's riding the crest of his overwhelming popularity. In his mind, he's the Most Popular and Bestest President Ever, beloved by the masses, with an unlimited mandate to do as he pleases. So far reality has not made the slightest scratch on the plexiglass bubble of optimism that he lives in.

And so he's ready - again - to start pimping his disastrous Social Security destruction scheme, as if Americans have been clamoring for it and he's ready to give the people what they've been begging for. It's easy to understand Bush-speak - whenever he uses the word 'reform', simply substitute the word 'destroy' and you will get the picture.

Are you fricking kidding me? I live in California, and experienced first-hand the benefits of the privatization of the energy companies. Thank you Enron. Because of that, the state of California was ripped off, our governor Gray Davis (who wasn't the greatest but surely no worse than Pete "Kill the Kiddies" Wilson) was yanked out of office and replaced by a Governator who ran on the promise of fiscal prudence and standing up to 'special interests', which sounded good until we realized that what he meant by 'special interests' were teachers, nurses and firefighters. If this is 'business' behavior, you can stick it where the sun don't shine.

The problem with 'running the government like a business' is that business' only purpose is to make a profit. And government's purpose is, not to 'take care of us' as in the so-called 'nanny state' (a misnomer if ever there was one) but to facilitate us taking care of ourselves! These are our tax dollars that we give to the government, and the government is us. Oil companies who make these obscene profits on oil seem to forget that the oil itself is a resource that belongs to the country that it is drilled from. And that means each and every American, each and every Saudi, each and every Iraqi. It is a national resource upon which our very lives depend, since no one has seen fit to make a serious effort to find other, more sustainable power resources. And yet these oil companies act like they fricking invented it.They do not have the right to hold us hostage with our own rope.

When you use business as a model, you forget one very important thing - that salaries are a business liablilty! A business is not in business to take care of anything but the bottom line. That's not a moral judgment, it's a fact. Why should it? A business is not a person; does not need to eat, sleep, care for a family. Its priorities are different than a person's. That's okay. But since the government is supposed to represent the people of the United States, who do, indeed, have these needs, this is a very poor model to use. People's needs are a liability to a business.

As a corollary to that, the demonization of unions has enjoyed a resurgence lately. But if business is to be let alone to protect its own interest, so should the worker. The obvious fact is, the less a company has to pay its workers, the better its bottom line. You can't argue with that. So it is in the company's own best interest to pay as little as it can get away with. Watch a company's stock rise when it lays off workers. And then the workers who are not laid off have to work twice as hard to do the work of the people who have been laid off.

Companies are always defending their huge tax breaks by saying, "We create jobs!" But if the jobs don't pay enough to lead a decent life, what good are they? I often use the example of the 2 employers - one pays one guy $25 an hour, the other pays 5 guys $5 an hour. So does the 2nd employer create more jobs than the 1st? Why not hire 25 guys at $1 an hour! That's 25 jobs right there!

The employee making $25 an hour, though, can at least afford a place to live, to eat, maybe even some discretionary spending, thereby adding to the tax base. The people making $5 an hour will be on welfare. The only chance that a regular worker has is to group together to negotiate a decent salary. Otherwise, it will be against a company's interest to pay it. In a business, some expenses are negotiable, others are not. If you can get a lower price on your inventory from one dealer than another, as a good business person you are obligated to buy from the cheaper wholesaler. An employer is obligated to pay the least in salary that he can get away with. So why is it so bad when people get together in a union to protect their own interests? If the problem is corruption - fine; get rid of it, deal with it. But don't disband the unions themselves. The corporations have massive resources at their disposal to take care of themselves; why not workers?

The demonization of the unions is a deliberate attempt by the corporations and businesses to cut a better deal for themselves. And who can blame them? But don't be fooled. "Right to work" means "Right to take whatever we feel like giving you". You can't count on a corporation to voluntarily give employees what they need. Workers need to be allowed the same rights to protect themselves. This vast inequality between the employers and employees has resulted in the sad living situation we see all around us - massive layoffs, those who still have jobs worked half to death and living in fear of their own layoff, people being forced to train their Bangalore replacement (sort of like being made to dig your own grave before you're executed).

And while we're at it, why not talk about universal health care? That would take one burden off of business' back. I don't think that with the job turnover rate as high as it is, that it makes sense for businesses to pay for health care.

So to have this as a model for our government is insane. When you bring in the profit factor, which is the main goal of a business, you're taking away money from yourself. Government is us taking care of us, not somebody else taking care of us. We need to deal with whatever waste and inefficiency there is within the system, not throw away the system. And, speaking of waste and inefficiency, not to mention outright thievery, what government agency could possibly compete with Halliburton and its subsidiaries on that front? The most wasteful government program pales in comparison.

So don't give me that nonsense about privatization. Let's have more transparent government, more oversight and accountability, a better system of implementation, but keep your greedy, grubby, grabby paws off my tax dollars.

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