For the past 28 years, Americans on all political sides have considered privatization the best solution to almost every problem. Government, we keep being told, can’t do anything right. The past three Republican presidents have, of course, gone out of their way to prove this, in a way they should logically never have been allowed to do. (“If elected head of this government, which should do as little as possible, I promise I will do as little as possible.” Gimme a break.) Government, we are told, should not be allowed to run profit-making enterprises, like Conrail, because then it competes unfairly with private-sector markets. And of course it should not be allowed to operate at a loss, as with Amtrak, because then it is wasting the people’s money. All of its operations are full of waste, fraud, and abuse, except, I suppose, those that manage to exactly break even.
What are the supposed advantages of private-sector over government operations? These days, government often contracts with corporations to handle its dirty work, whether collecting office trash or driving trucks over the IED Highway in Iraq. Most private corporations these days are not unionized, and are therefore able to pay their rank-and-file workers less in monetary compensation and benefits than government workers (or unionized private-sector workers) get. In addition, private corporations can and often do save money by playing fast and loose with various governmental regulations in ways the government itself obviously can’t get away with.
But on the other hand, corporations by definition contain one more level of costs than government—stockholder dividends. And they are subject to the whims of private executive management, including outrageous levels of compensation utterly unrelated to any kind of track record.
The major difference between governmental and corporate operations, however, is rarely even mentioned on either side of the political divide. The ordinary citizen has no input into the selection of corporate management, except perhaps in one or two corporations in which s/he gets an occasional proxy, courtesy of a 401(k) or an IRA. We all get to vote for the management of the entire government. Reasonable people can differ about the ultimate efficacy of those votes, but there can be absolutely no question that the ordinary citizen-voter has a lot more effect on the government than the ordinary citizen-stockholder in one or two corporations has on the private market as a whole.
So let’s use this new beginning to start mentioning the unmentionable. Let’s get the government off the privatizing track, and back into hiring its own—make that our own—workers to do our work at wages and benefits we would consider adequate. The corporate executives won’t suffer. They will, as usual, land on their feet. If being head honcho of a major corporation doesn’t buy you exemption from the struggles of ordinary people, whatever else it does buy you isn’t worth the trouble of going to Board meetings. I don’t want the people’s business done by minimum-wage no-benefit “part-time” workers contracted by overpaid private corporate executives. Save that for the private sector.