State governments have taken a number of different steps to balance their books in recent years. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (remember him?) proposed a new tax on strip clubs, for example, and a Utah state rep. suggested saving $60 million per year by abolishing the 12th grade. But no proposal struck as much metaphorical gold as Arizona’s decision to sell off the state capitol (and a whole bunch of other state properties, such as maximum security prisons) for $735 million in 2009. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed off on the deal, and the state now leases the House and Senate chambers from a private real estate company at a considerable long-term cost.
The best part? Arizona sold the building for $81 million dollars and is having to buy it back for $105 million. So, not including the money they spent on leasing the building from the private company they sold the capital to, Arizona’s highly right-wing government just gave $21 million dollars to this company and gained precisely nothing for it. This story is a microcosm for privatization of public services overall: it always costs more money and you don’t get any better service in return for the extra money spent. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that this government’s run by the hard-right wing of the Republican party, y’know, the ones that are supposed to be ‘fiscally responsible’.
Privatization doesn’t save tax payers money whether it’s prisons, schools, or health care for the elderly. A prime example of what the public sector can do is the closure of I-405 in LA in July. The I-405 closure was done by state and municipal authorities and finished under budget and ahead of time. Compare that to the I-540 loop here in North Carolina, where you have several contractors fired over the years and the project so staggeringly over budget that twenty years on from when ground first broke on the project the government is going to have to switch the rest of the expressway to a toll road to pay for finishing it. Of course, they’ve already selected a company to run the toll collection system, because trusting the private sector to do public sector work has gone so well on this project already.
I defy anyone to find a single successful example of privatization of a public service, with success defined as either saved money while maintaining service or improved service while costing the same. If you find a success, let me know in the comments. I’ll be waiting.
This year has been a pretty good year, and a pretty bad one.
It’s been good for the idea of resistance being permanent, that no matter how hard totalitarians try, eventually they will slip and folks will rise up. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain…these are all countries that labored under the boots of Western-backed strongman thugs and have risen up to get rid of them with varying success. Tunisia looks to be shaping up alright, but Egypt is looking more like post-Duvalier Haiti than a conventional parliamentary democracy right now, where the generals and other senior officers that Mubarak put into place continuing to use the systems of oppression he built to maintain control. And the less said about Libya in this context, the better: it’s looking less and less like the West intervened to defend democracy and more and more like we intervened for the same reasons we did in Iraq: to replace a recalcitrant strongman that does inconvenient things for Western economic interests with a more pliant, less stable dictator or other nondemocratic government. But in the end, no matter how these end, that they started is a good thing.
It’s been good for the idea that the system doesn’t work for you but works you over. Everybody here in the US will probably point to Occupy as an example of this if this topic comes up, but I’d point to Greece’s general strikes and various other labor disputes throughout Europe as well as the fact that the gap between rich and poor continues to grow despite tepid economic growth and flat jobs numbers. People are slowly but surely coming to the realization that capitalism is a system hand-designed to protect the wealthy and harm the worker. In my generation, you see an increase of interest in labor unions (this is a good thing because they are going to be part of the solution to the problems we face, in my opinion. Above all I am a syndicalist philosophically) and further skepticism of what pronouncements come from on high. Given how heavily Millennials like myself invested emotional energy into the Obama campaign four years ago, there’s going to be some significant disillusion in the political process because of how he’s turned out to govern like a moderate Republican, and this is a good thing because it makes it easier to bring folk around to the idea of taking direct action, cf. Occupy Our Homes as an example of this.
And finally, it’s been a bad year for most people. Despite all these rays of hope there are still untold amounts of human suffering that come about from just having to survive day to day in this world. I get a bit more access to it than most because of my political avocation and family ties to what you could call a local capitalism harm-mitigation organization. As much as I take hope from what’s happening locally and internationally, it’s impossible for me to forget that there are decent people starving and put out into the street because they were lied to by their mortgage broker in the name of earning his commission, and a commission for his boss, and a bonus for the banker that broke his mortgage into a million shards and turned it into a CDO, and a bonus for his boss and so on. This is fucked, and some of what drives me forward in my activism.
In the end, I look backward to build the courage to look forward without flinching, and I find inspiration in what people did and said when people with my opinions got tarred and feathered, or murdered, or imprisoned and still kept on fighting for what they believed in despite all of this. So I’ll leave it on this note. Tommy Douglas, the first head of the NDP and the father of Canada’s universal health care system, said this, “Courage, my friends; ’tis not too late to build a better world.”
Have a good New Years’ Eve.