The Case for Privatization

If you spend more than a few minutes a day following the news of this country's long slog through the budget mess brought on by sequesters and delayed ultimatums, you might be questioning whether anything works anymore. In fact, you might think we just need to throw it all out. Maybe Government is truly broken and needs to be put out to pasture. Maybe we should stop fighting the inevitable and let another system take over.

If the aim of Congress has been to scuttle any semblance of compromise and forward momentum so that people will lose faith in Government to get the job done, it will have been the only thing Congress has succeeded at in years. We're officially exhausted and over it, and we've lost faith. Now, desperate for solutions, we gradually turn to other sources - private sources - to see things done more efficiently. Hell, we'll settle for seeing things done at all. In the process, we trust that private interests will respect individual citizens to live their lives as they see fit, without intervention or interruption.

It's hard to shake the awful impression that Federal Government has become worse than its own caricature. It's a massive, sludgy, rusted timepiece up on a hill that no longer tells time. It's a paperweight. It has given us no reason to trust it will leave us alone, either. We're afraid of ending up in a detention cell without representation, or on a Presidential 'kill list.' We're afraid of having our choices restricted by huge, sweeping restrictions. Both parties and all branches of Government have left us, regardless of our political persuasion, feeling massively underrepresented and angry.

Even those with true faith in Government know it has failed. Knowing this, they also don't blame that failure on the idea of Government, as their foes do. I've often made the argument that private interests have corrupted the process, jamming their lobbyists and campaign finances up into the gears and slowing it down. None of that matters now, though. The damage is done and, for now at least, appears irreversible. Government should have safeguards in place to push this stuff out, and it has either legislated them away or taken advantage of loopholes to circumvent reform. This isn't the way Government is supposed to work, but nothing is changing. It's only getting worse. Isn't that evidence enough that it has failed us? Junk is jammed in there and we're sick to death of seeing the headlines: "Republicans push back. Democrats push back. Third party candidates not allowed to debate. Republicans filibuster. Democrats filibuster. Sequester. Impasse." 

Some still believe that Government is designed to work, and can still work if we legislate the rot from it. Others bear a similar true faith in individualism, in private liberty and progress. These are competing faiths, and they represent nothing less than a holy war where facts are used in the service of either side, leaving faith and belief and hope as the only truly intransigent variables. Liberals carry the banner of social justice and shared responsibility and small Government advocates carry a banner of individual liberty and personal responsibility. All of these sentiments are valid, but in the machinations of a complex, multi-tiered society, they don't always play well together.

We're hungry for change - at this point change in any direction will whet our appetites - and we've lost the will to re-tool something this irreparably broken. We want our education system fixed. We want a National Defense budget that doesn't leave us vulnerable. We want our roads and bridges to be safe. We want to be free to make decisions in our own homes without being monitored. We want our civil liberties restored. We're sick of hearing excuses and we're sick of largely meaningless Pyrrhic victories for 'our side.'

Don't forget that nothing about this is simple. There are other variables at play that bear mentioning. There are problems in both mainstream and social media that distort our senses and create a perception of helplessness that is devised to inspire rage. There are citizens on the fringes of society who genuinely need help and can't get it for themselves. There are public trusts that a majority of the population still doesn't want to see thrown out. But Congress? Our hatred of Congress's inaccessibility and inefficiency unites us. Why not throw them out?

"Throw the bums out" may sound like a baby/bathwater solution, but maybe it's all we have left to do. Can you stand another day of back and forth in Congress? Can you stand another day of nothing getting done, of Congressional Holidays, of oil and sludge and shit poured liberally into the gears of Government until everything comes to a standstill? That's where we are now. It's a desperate time. And sometimes, we have to turn to what works.

The free market solution isn't perfect. Far from it. Even free market advocates will tell you that the free market isn't truly free. It works in very much the same fashion that Government works - affecting lots of people to the benefit of very few. One key difference is that private entities work to eradicate the kinds of regulation, restriction, and bureaucratic entanglements that have left Government impotent to do anything. That's the difference, albeit one that comes with a price.

Corporations may market themselves as public trusts, but Government professes public interest when the opposite is often true. There is undoubted collusion - and it cuts both ways - between civic Governments and private interests, and much of it works against the public good. I may believe that Corporate interests have corrupted Government, and others may believe that Government intervention prevent private interests from acting in the service of the public good, but it's clear that we won't be dislodging these entanglements soon.

Does privatization, in practice, work any more to the benefit of individuals than Government does? Wealth generated from private, individual ventures can (and does), at the whim of people with philanthropic and civic minded values, help society. Private growth is predicated on the notion that constant evolution of ideas lead to a better society. You can argue about which private ventures succeeded without public funding (as many do - witness the birth of the internet and other world-shifting technologies) and you can even argue that certain technologies would not grow if not guided by public institutions. But what now are public institutions but things that remind our society - a society shamed by its diminished superpower status - of all that has failed us?

There's a notion that a free market unrestricted by bureaucracy and restriction will restore that superpower status. It will, the theory goes, guide itself away from bad things, keeping itself in check. Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' enjoys wide acceptance with free market advocates, and is as esoteric (and as effective) as the theory of checks and balances in Government. Do these theoretical self correcting mechanisms actually work, or are they just things we tell ourselves to keep our true faith strong? Privatization advocates have faith that corrupt interests can stay viable so long as competition stays strong. Government advocates have faith that if new regulations comes along, all that's wrong with Washington will be fixed.

So, who's right? The better question to ask might be, who has more push-back? Who has the means to dislodge the gridlock? This issue - and our faith in things improving - has become so desperate that it's less about who is right and more about who can get it done.

After all, 'who's right' is entirely a matter of perception. We're currently a society reeling from wars and a cultural identity crisis. One of the very few points of pride we have left is our innovation. Our public resources and budget are embarrassingly inadequate. So where do we now derive our national pride? It comes from the private sector. Innovation. Technology. Venture capital. Google. Apple. Successful business. That's the point of pride for us now. Crippled by the shriveled, embarrassing impotence of our Legislatures and our diminished respect in the world, we no longer want to turn to staid institutions - reminders of our failures - for solutions to our problems. We don't want our virility associated with those institutions, but to things we still have some semblance of pride in. Let's turn to the things that make us feel virile instead of the things that remind us of just how ineffective we've become.

The current state of our country leave us with a National identity that demands we derive our pride and solutions from that which we perceive works. The perception is that Government has let everybody down. Another perception is that certain kinds of business and innovation has kept our economy afloat. Why would we not, then, turn to that for help instead? Leaning on private interests to build and fund and run our prisons and schools may come with a price tag, but I daresay our culture, in its current state, with it's current insecurities, demands it.

We're at the point where we don't even care which way is better, or morally superior, or in the interest of more people. We care about what works, and at this point Government has thorough proven to us that it does not. Smaller Government is a rising tide. Some might call it a rising sneeze. You can't fight it. Government's inability to cut the tumor out has left us with no choice. Change is coming.


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