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.
Roughly three-quarters of the public (77%) say that they think there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States. About nine-in-ten (91%) Democrats and eight-in-ten (80%) of independents hold this view; a much narrower majority (53%) of Republicans do as well. For historical perspective, six-in-ten (60%) Americans expressed this view in a 1941 Gallup poll.
Reflecting a parallel sentiment, 61% of Americans now say that the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy; just 36% say the system is generally fair to most Americans. About three-quarters (76%) of Democrats and 61% of independents share this view. In contrast, a majority (58%) of Republicans say that the system is generally fair to most Americans.
This poll combined with the polling on socialism I wrote about a couple of days ago says to me that the declaration of Occupy’s death by the media is premature. I mean, it’s not entirely surprising that a media that’s so thoroughly dependent on advertising money from big businesses has been studiously ignoring Occupy actions, but it is kind of shocking exactly how hard it’s been dropped despite significant stories continuing to emerge nationwide, like Occupy protestors reinforcing a picket line, arrests for spurious reasons, and other legal bullshit like making protestors take free speech classes, especially when you contrast it with the way the media still talks about the Tea Party as a going concern.
Even if the media is right and Occupy is on its way down, it means the movement is coming off the field having not finished its work, which means there’s an opening for further efforts to emerge and take shape. Income inequality and the enthrallment of the political system to the employing class aren’t issues that have been resolved. Even if Occupy is flickering out and lacks sufficient support, these polls mean that Occupy’s organizational shape was insufficient for the task ahead of it and not that there isn’t a sizable amount of agreement with the general energy behind the movement.
As I’ve said before, Occupy is, to me, a transitional form. It might have been impossible for it to be a permanent structure, but Occupy is a fantastic way to get the discussion going right now about the past twenty-five years of neoliberalism and how it has ruined lives. The organizations that start to chop down the problems choking our society will have to, at least initially, take relatively conventional forms like industrial unions and (to a lesser extent, in my opinion) political parties. This won’t always be the case as society is changed to be more participatory in nature, but at the start it will be absolutely necessary because these organizational forms have a proven track record of engendering change.
In any event, I’m waiting to see how the media covers these polls and what it will mean for the political campaigns ahead. The answers to those questions are probably, “they won’t,” and, “nothing,” but a man can hope.