Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Privatization and Society

Where did the idea of privatization come from? It is truly a strange idea for humans to embrace as it is the very antithesis of society, and humans do, of necessity, live in societies, or communities, or at least groups of one kind or another. This seems to be the result of the relative helplessness of human individuals trying to compete in nature. They band together for mutual protection and mutual help. It has always been so for humans whether the group or community is very small, like a primitive band or a peasant society, or very large such as a nation or other polity. Whatever this basic condition is all about I am pretty sure it was never intended to be organized to enable a very few individuals to become enormously wealthy at the expense of the majority of others.

But somewhere along the way and somehow or other some societies moved away from the basic goal of mutual protection and mutual help and citizens found themselves stratified into different classes based upon relative wealth and privilege. This seems to have had something to do with becoming agrarian rather than merely hunters and gatherers, having a surplus of food, and thus presenting an opportunity for some to benefit at the expense of others. I guess some of the more clever members of the groups managed to convince the more superstitious and gullible that they were actually in touch with the gods, or were themselves godlike, and could manage natural events like rainfall, disasters, and so on. Or perhaps some were better organizers than others, managed to create enough power to take over the management and distribution of resources, leaving the others at their mercy. They invented myths like the “Divine Right of Kings,” that allowed them to become wealthy and powerful as some kind of god-given privilege. The “masses” became dependent upon “royalty” to allow them their crusts of bread or whatever.
Eventually, when the disparity between the haves and have-nots became so grossly out of proportion, the masses  revolted, often violently, and made some form of progress towards a more egalitarian society, the best examples I suppose being the French and Russian revolutions. Sometimes important changes came about without actual revolutions as in the case in the U.S. when the “Robber Barons” were forced to give in to labor unions and a more equitable sharing of wealth. We find ourselves now in a similar situation with the disparity between the wealthy and the poor greater than ever before, and increasing year by year. There are now signs that the masses have had about enough of this disparity and are beginning once again to organize, strike, and demand a better share of the nation’s wealth.

At least part of this problem has resulted from the concept of privatization, an idea promoted by the insidious (and false) myth that private enterprise can do better than government when it comes to providing services to the public. Those who promote privatization do not do so because they believe they can actually do things better, they do it because they can profit from it. They argue that government is too big and too bureaucratic to be able to do things efficiently and well. But if you have ever had to deal with huge corporations or businesses, like, for example, banks, insurance companies, energy companies, telephone companies, even large Universities and such, you must know they can be even more inefficient, bureaucratic, and confusing than equivalent governmental agencies. Indeed, trying to cope with private companies can be and often is fraught with impossibilities and bureaucratic nonsense.

Privatization is fundamentally anti-social and adds the element of profit into public services that should not be run for profit. The idea that schools or prisons, for example, should be run to make a profit is simply absurd. In such cases profit is generated by hiring fewer employees, buying cheaper foods and other supplies, increasing classroom sizes, and so on. In the case of private prisons they also must have a generous supply of prisoners, that results in prison sentences for non-violent, mostly drug-related charges. You simply cannot privatize what are truly basic human needs, like Social Security,  health care, energy, education, prisons, freeways, bridges, and so forth. The proponents of privatization have even attempted to privatize water, and would privatize air if they could. Privatization represents the very opposite of what society and community are supposed to represent, it is an evil that should not be permitted in a decent society, and certainly not in one that purports to be a democracy.
 The privatization plan weakens Social Security and threatens our economic security by creating trillions of dollars in new debt.
Ruben Hinojosa

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