Friday, February 24, 2012

Privatization and Purpose

Those who would privatize vital public services apparently have lost sight of the purpose of such services, and the respective purposes of privatization and public services seem to be ignored entirely or simply abandoned, even though they are diametrically opposed to each other. I am speaking here of at least three different public services, health care, schools, and prisons. You might think it would be obvious that the purposes of these services is quite definitely not to make a profit.

The worst example I can imagine is privatizing health care which is, of course what we have allowed to happen. There is simply no reason Insurance companies should be involved in health care, none. They provide no medical treatment of any kind and basically make their money on the misfortunes and deaths of their customers. They do this of course by deciding what medical procedures they can allow and still make a profit. You would think the purpose of health care is to provide the best health care possible, not just the health care they decide you can afford. In return for shuffling papers around they manage to make enormous profits while actually hindering the provision of such services. It is perfectly obvious that something like Medicare for all, a single payers system, would be by far the most efficient and least expensive way to go. Indeed, all major industrialized countries provide such health care, except for the United States.

Privatizing our public schools is an equally absurd idea. The purpose of the schools is to educate our children, prepare them for adulthood and meaningful lives. It is definitely not to make a profit. Privatized schools make a profit by basically paying the lowest wages for teachers they can, keeping as many students in each classroom as possible, cutting the costs of supplies and equipment, heat, minimum maintenance, and so on. This is hardly a way of providing the best educational opportunities for children. It could only happen in a society that places little value on their children and even less value on education in general. For a wealthy society to fail to provide the best education possible for their children is shameful, to say nothing of eventually suicidal.

In the case of prisons I think the possibilities for abuse are even worse, unless one believes that prisons should do little more than merely incarcerate individuals for different periods of time. Obviously the easiest way to make a profit running a prison is to provide the least of everything, small cells, little heat, lousy food, little or no recreation, poor medical attention, no counseling, education, and so on. In extreme cases this could even extend to poorly laundered prison garb, minimal hot water, charges for visitations, and the like. There is also the problem of recruitment. How, that is, to make sure you have adequate prison populations that can lead to unnecessary arrests, longer sentences, and the possibility of collusion between the police, judges and prison officials.

There are other areas that should not be privatized if, that is, they are to serve the public interest, energy, for example, or the Post Office, the VA and other hospitals. In short, those things that are vital for a smoothly and efficient society. I cannot understand why this is not obvious to all, but, of course, when you live in a society that freaks out at the very mention of socialism, and believes free market capitalism is the only possible economic system, privatization is what you get. Privatization is also predicated on the extremely questionable belief that private enterprise can do everything much better than government. I have personally found over time that I have far more trouble with banks, phone companies, insurance companies, and others than I have ever encountered with governmental agencies. Try, for example, dealing with a phone company when they have suddenly, for no apparent reason, decided to unlist your phone number, or with a bank that has been systematically overcharging you, or an insurance company resisting a claim.

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.
C. S. Lewis

No comments: