The Mantra of Privatization: What's in it for Me?

Government’s willingness to internalize and act upon free market myths has manifested a system overly-dependent on private industry. The privatization fetish, which began raising Republican boners in the Reagan-era, has since resulted in an economy which profits from suffering, death, imprisonment, debt and sickness. Our prisons, hospitals, even our wars are being viewed as opportunities to profit. And with so many social services now in the hands of corporations, the incentive ceases to lie in solving problems, but in exacerbating them—war without end, illness without cure, and life without parole.

That is the topic of Bill Maher’s article in July 23rd’s Huffington Post. An exasperated Maher wonders why everything must be convoluted through profit to be worth doing. Why can’t services just be services instead of service industries?

“How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are.”

Since the late 1970s (and arguably earlier), the U.S. has been transitioning from a production economy to a service economy. What is exemplified by the bursting housing bubble, the extraordinary amount of personal and national debt owed, and our overflowing prison populations is that America is now a predatory economy.

We have disconnected the means from the ends. If prison is intended to deter and rehabilitate, why then are astronomical recidivism rates acceptable? Why does this country spend more on health care, imprison more of its people than any other? Because many “efficient” and “competitive” businesses have more to gain from our perpetual suffering than our advancement.

We are so pre-occupied with trickle-down and rising tides that we have lost sight of what those privatized programs are attempting to correct. Whatever raises share prices and wealth for the owning class is taken as a perverse indicator of national well-being. Why can’t well-being be an indicator of well-being? It sounds insane, but why don’t we stop trying to figure out how we can make money by helping people and just help them? Because it is clear that corporations are always clever enough to circumvent helping people (it’s just too damn expensive!), while still garnering increasingly wide profit-margins. If you can cut down on expenditures (i.e. doing your job) and make the same amount in contracts, it’s better for the bottom line.

Social programs keep eyes affixed on solving problems,yet private contracted companies stand to gain from perpetuating the status quo, even diminishing the quality of life in America. And it is not just at home. The vampiric disease spreads wherever the host goes, or rather, invades. Not only have private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan been responsible for mind-boggling waste and corruption, but they have contributed directly to the suffering of our troops and local populations.

Capitalism embraces product which is addictive and cheap. And while Philip Morris is reviled for distributing a product that is chemically addictive, no one bats an eye at profiting from our dependence on health care. We are inevitably going to end up sick and dying at some point. Companies like Blue Cross exploit our built-in obsolescence, and when progressives suggest reforming that vicious system, the Right treats us like blasphemers.

I’m not anti-business; I’m pro-human. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but when companies like Halliburton-KBR, Blue Cross, and the Corrections Corporation of America place profits before people, we have to fight back. It is our money they inhale, our friends they imprison, and our kids they refuse to cover. And there’s plenty you can do about it.

The prison-industrial complex is perhaps one of the strongest forces in lobbying against sensible drug policy and in favor of tougher prison sentences. Critical Resistance is a grassroots organization that rejects prison as a panacea for social problems and works for reasonable rehabilitation. Check out their website here.

Support the courageous members of Congress fighting to reform our broken health care system and ensure coverage for all Americans. Sign NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s petition to include a not-for-profit public option in the health care plan.

There’s so much more you can do, but let’s hear from you. Comment below to plug your favorite causes and groups fighting for corporate accountability.