Thursday, May 19, 2011

Privatize THIS!

Two weeks ago I witnessed a scene which evoked contrasting emotions in me. Arriving at the strip mall Chinese restaurant for weekend lunch, there was a small crowd at the entrance. Closer examination revealed a hairy streetperson on the pavement, prostate, clutching his head, and writhing in pain. After examining the street guy, and determining that he was completely gassed up, three sheets to the wind, several hours into his weekend binge, and that he had lost his balance, had fallen over, hit his head, but was sitting up and looking for his beer, I decided he was OK, stepped over him, and so proceeded into the restaurant to order lunch.

One woman with two small, filthy, and obviously miserable children in tow demanded that someone call 9-1-1. As far as I could determine, she had no relationship with drunken prostate street guy. Eventually, the possible munchausen-by-proxy woman (you'll just have to accept my opinion on this as I've no time to narrate her behavior to justify this statement, but suffice to say she was trying to milk as much attention from the unfortunate's situation as she could) called emergency services on her cellphone.

Now, I don't know how it is in your town, but in Chicago, a 9-1-1 call for emergency medical assistance means that not only will an ambulance arrive, but the cops will also arrive as well. Drunken street guy knew this, and after lurching himself erect asked which way Belmont street was (presumably part of his route). Despite insistence from various onlookers that he remain seated for the ambulance, he made a steady and rapid recovery and took off toward Belmont street.

Perhaps a minute, and certainly no more, after the busybody woman had made her call, a firetruck, which is to say a ladder truck, showed up in the parking lot of the strip mall. Fire personnel in full medical assistance regalia disembarked, and when told by members of the crowd that the emergency victim was high-tailing it up Belmont street, fanned out to find the bum. I saw nothing more as by then the takeout was done and I headed back to the studio.

The conflicting emotions were as follows:

Anger. Anger at the busybody woman who not enough sense to realize the bum was not incapacitated by injury, or rather, by voluntary behavior. Anger at the waste of public resources and tax monies. The public institution's response was a bit overzealous.

Pride, and no small amount of amazement at the rapidity and capacity of the public assistance. Had this been a real emergency, it would have been handled deftly, expertly, with the utmost competence and, yes, style. I really don't see this type of outcome coming from private industry. I really don't.

Think about it. "Good enough for government work" is an Orwellian piece of propaganda, an insult unworthy of the subject.

If you want to see cheap, shoddy, crappy, inept products or services, look to the private sector.

Can you imagine how that 9-1-1 call would have gone, if a private industry were in charge of emergency medical services? One clue as to the response on the phone, and it starts with "Do you have any medical insurance?..." No? =click=

Government services - when properly funded - just beat the living crap out of private industry when it comes to quality. Social security checks, millions of them, go out on time and accurate every month. The people's socialist weather satellites and supercomputers do a pretty fantastic job at forecasting, especically during times of disaster. Remember Katrina? The National Weather Service pretty much predicted the track of that storm down almost in terms of feet. Speaking of accuracy how about NASA's space probes? Think they are good enough for government work? Think Fedex could do as well? Fedex wishes they had their shit together the way the command-and-control economies of the US government does. (And what is a private corporation but a little private command-and-control economy? When it's run right that is).

The big lie which is gaining traction these past three decades can be summed up as the religion of free market fundamentalism, as the triumphalism of the neoliberal cult (although the past ten years haven't given them much to be triumphant about. You've two tenets in this current cult of privatization. One I've mentioned: market fundamentalism, the belief that most problems can be solved by the private parties rather than state oversight. The implicit assumptions in this belief is that markets, or competitive industries within a market, are rational and efficient. Empirical data to date denies this. Markets are not efficient. Actually, they are, but only when incorrect pricing is resolved, and the market "suffers a correction". The only time a market is efficient is during a crash. 

And competition? Well, the point of competition is to eliminate the competition. Once the competition is eliminated, there's no point in pursuing efficiency is there?

The second tenet is techno fundamentalism: the optimistic belief that technology can solve all problems (especially the ones created by the technology to begin with).

Together, this creates the religion of neoliberalism, which goes beyond your usual simpleton's libertarianism. Championed by Reagan and Thatcher, mastered by Clinton and Blair, taken on fiath by Bush, Cheney, and a Republican Congress, thirty years of it has nearly driven us all to ruin, or rather, those of us not in the top .1 percent. And, of course, the beautiful thing about this religion is it can be self-fulfilling in predicting a failure of public institutions to supply an essential public good. All you need do is defund the government, or better still, remove revenues in the form of taxes.

For the private sector, it's a beautiful thing. Public projects are up for grabs, public infrastructures and institutions, built up over 400 years in the US of A, and worth tens of trillions, are now available to be cannibalized into obscene profits. And all you need do, to insure a public failure - the mirror image of market failure - is to cut the funding.  Beautiful. No need for public intervention. Not when it can all be privatized and at bargain basement prices (for them, not you).

Like your society as it is? Enjoy the benefits of frivolous but beautiful things like public libraries, public art, public parks, folk festivals, opera, museums, free concerts, free anything? Do you seriously think you'll get any of this from private corporations, if they have a monopoly on everything,  have no fear of public oversight and intervention, and, quite simply have no incentive to provide for the public good, or, more likely, prevent public harm? Private corporations that generally treat the public as a resource to extract time, talent, information, and energy from? The record to date is, in general, pretty fucking abysmal. We are just human resources to them.  We are the raw material for the extractive industries around us, the latest being the "social" ones.

So, with the current fad being to privatize everything that isn't nailed down, maybe it's time to tell the fucking corporate leeches and their public stooges to privatize THIS!

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