I’ve been on a roll lately, tearing apart the conservative ideology. From pointing out that it is, in essence, a philosophy of selfishness, to denouncing the invisible hand concept as a myth, I now set my sights on matters that have actual life and death implications. I’m talking about privatization of services that are important to society. I’m talking about what happens when you take something that was never designed to turn a profit, something upon which many people depend, and cut its financial umbilical cord and force it to face the cutthroat marketplace on its own.
With Mitt Romney’s recent proposal of cutting funding to PBS and forcing it to privatize, the most poignant rebuttal came from history: TLC, previously known as The Learning Channel, was once a publicly funded educational channel. It was privatized. Now, beholden to only advertisers, it broadcasts Toddlers in Tiaras and Honey Boo Boo. It has no incentive to educate its viewers because the private sector answers only to the almighty dollar.
I should divide this argument into two categories: things that should never, under any circumstances, be privatized (category 1), and things that should be mainly public, but allow the private sector to compete (category 2). I draw the line like this: If the service has anything to do with law creation, enforcement or punishment, it’s in category 1.
Thus, category 1 consists mainly of lobbying, law enforcement and prisons. (Also: military)
Lobbies are currently synonymous with private money, which is quite terrible. I could go on a rant about how it has hijacked our democracy, but I’ll leave that for another day. I’d rather focus on some more real concrete examples of privatization fucking things up. Let’s look at prisons.
The United States sends more of its population to prison than any other society in history. Why? Because prison is very lucrative. 13% of all federal prisoners are kept in privately run facilities. While in these facilities, the prisoners are forced to work for next to nothing while they produce many goods like office furniture, appliances, and paints. This is slave labor. These goods are then sold at full profit. If you do not see anything wrong with this, consider the sentence that I started this paragraph with. People are being sent to prison to work as slaves for no good reason. In fact, judges get paid by these private prisons to send them more prisoners. Some of it is due to ridiculous laws like “three strikes” and a lot of it is simply just convicting people who can’t afford to fight. Either way, it’s fucked up.
Without the incentive for profit, there would be no incentive to imprison so many people. There would be no incentive to pass laws that lock people up for no good reason. This is why these category 1 services should never, under any circumstances, be privatized. Doing so would result in the exploitation of humanity for profit.
I defined my second category as services that should be offered in full through public funds, with the caveat that private industries would be welcomed in offering a competing product for those willing to actually pay. The key here is that these services should still never go completely private. Another key is that the private sector should never be capable of throttling the public sector’s ability to provide these services. Category 2 services are beneficial to society as a whole, like education, healthcare, welfare, research, infrastructure, and utilities.
There are many ways in which private education does a better job than public education, but this is not a universal truth. Nor is it a simple public versus private fundamental argument. The important thing is that all citizens should be given access to quality education throughout their lives regardless of their financial situation. Money should never have anything to do with this essential human right.
The same should be said for healthcare. It should be free and available for every citizen. It should not be driven by profit. I should add that I am thoroughly against “Obamacare” because it is an endorsement of the private model of healthcare.
A private sector apologist might use the example of cosmetic surgery (breast implants, laser eye surgery, face lifts, etc.) being the only medical procedure to go down in cost over the last 2 decades. The reason? Because it is not regulated, competition has made it more affordable. The rebuttal? This is elective surgery. The vast majority of people who get cosmetic surgery are not in any danger of losing their life. Everyone goes into it knowing that they’ll be paying out of their own pocket. They save up for it. It has never bankrupted them because it came up unexpectedly.
There should never be any incentive to profit off of someone’s desire to survive. Simple as that. Medical costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy (42% of all cases) in America. And that’s for people actually getting care. Every year, tens of thousands of people die because they could not afford insurance for what should be complementary care. Many other countries have figured this out. Why can’t we?
There are some things in life that are simply not meant to turn a profit or even make a single penny for that matter. The solution should never be to privatize things. That would change their essence and purpose. I’d really like to see how a privatized Social Security fund would be run. I bet it would start by doling the pension out as planned, but eventually the call of profits would be loud and clear. Then people would get shut out and the flow would turn into a trickle. No thanks, I’d rather not answer to the call of the almighty dollar.
Of course, all of these publicly funded unprofitable services add up to huge government costs. That directly translates into higher taxes, like it or not. But I’d gladly pay those taxes knowing that I and the society around me is being well taken care of and not being thrown to the wolves.