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Globalizing Government
August 30, 2003
By Sandra E. Jewell

Have you heard the one about how your government will be put into private hands? That's right. Privatization, known as "market based government" by the Bush administration and "privateering" by others, is well under way and is probably already a part of your life.

Privatizing the government has been in the works for years but until now mostly involved using business contractors for things like building maintenance. No longer. President Bush has decreed the immediate replacement of about half the federal civilian work force with private sector employees, and that's just the beginning. Coming soon, the same folks who brought us corporate headquarters residing in offshore post office boxes, endless financial scandals, big name bankruptcies, and the expanding expatriation of American jobs will be providing the air traffic controllers for your next flight, the computer workers who keep tabs on your once-private social security records, and much, much more. The private sector and the Bush administration have big plans for us.

The general acceptance of the Bush administration's spin that the work of government can be done by private parties is an indictment of every high school American history class taught. So called "big government" began it's rise in the early 20th century as an antidote to the abuses and excesses of big business, and, in the face of rising public rebellion, helped to stabilize the capitalist democracy. The numerous incidents of popular revolt that occurred around that time are invisible in most history books.

Fast forward one century: Robber barons are amassing great wealth, once again with the collusion of the government. This time, instead of railroads, banks and oil, their path to riches centers on unraveling the hard won gains in the living standards of their employees.

The public sector, with its huge concentration of GNP and its multibillion dollar budget, has been coveted by corporations for a long time. Why shouldn't they, instead of the public, be the beneficiary of all that treasure? Their lucky break came with the adoption of GATS, NAFTA and IMF principles as free trade articles of faith by those who get paid to govern in the best interest of the taxpayer.

Predictably, the path from corporate profitability to the hoped for unspeakable profitability is through the line of least resistance, in this case that's the third world's most vulnerable, who get to continue their subsistence level existence but now at the largesse of the globe's major businesses. Corporations justified their craving for global tariff-free access with the mantra that this would raise living standards around the world. Instead, they relentlessly dispatch jobs to the lowest international bidder thereby causing waves of unemployment and sometimes unrest not only in the United States but also in Mexico, India and beyond, as jobs continue to migrate to the next hot spot of microscopic wages and nonexistent worker protections.

In think tanks, the media, policy papers and corporate reports, expatriating jobs to maximize corporate profits is called globalization. On the other side of the looking glass, in unemployment offices where an increasing number of middle class professionals turn up, it's called a few other things, none of them printable. And when free trade principles are applied to government, it's called privatization.

In this brave new world of private government it makes perfect sense to the corporations who are its beneficiaries to transfer public functions and tax dollars to the business sector and away from public oversight and accountability. You may have noticed that accountability is not a strong suit of corporations. In fact, it's usually in direct conflict with business interests, as convincingly demonstrated by the duplicity revealed in the recent, costly corporate failures that helped scuttle the stock market along with legions of pension plans.

The future of a privatized government is undeniably breath taking. Let's say that the private sector succeeds in its current effort to take over airport flight control operations. Once in command they run their usual drill, maximizing profits at the expense of the professional staff and dealing with constant employee dissatisfaction. Suppose they find that air traffic controllers in, say, China will accept low pay and as a bonus are quite flexible about their living conditions. The corporation then begins importing them on special visas, as is currently done with information technology workers from India, to fill jobs formerly occupied by those pesky US citizens. Poor English? No problem. The goal was never air safety anyway.

At the point where foreign labor is used instead of American, we have stepped beyond privatizing the government and into the unfettered kingdom of globalization. Why, for example, couldn't the hundreds of thousands of public school teachers in all those cash strapped districts also be globalized? Once the schools are privatized, an experiment now underway in a number of locations, the low pay country of origin of the teacher would be of no undue concern to the employer. Firefighters? Police? The possibilities are limited only by the imagination. You aren't xenophobic, are you?

There is another important advantage to corporations doing public business: the cost overruns that can add significantly to their bottom line. When built-in profit margins are deemed too low, the corporation has a ready solution, tried and true, compliments of contractor experience with the Department of Defense. The business need only threaten to close down to wrest a larger subsidy. If by this time the skeletal remnants of a once-thriving government agency no longer has the capacity to do the job itself, allowing the corporation to default may not be a viable option. Costly taxpayer bailouts to meet the price of corporate profit margins may well shadow our future.

With no long term experience, no contingency plan and no solution for the accountability issue, the privatization of the United States government is already well under way. Once the bloodless corporate coup against the public sector is finished, the remains of American democracy could be a shrouded memory.

 
Sandy Jewell can be reached at jolyjuly@earthlink.net.

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