Thom Hartmann on the Disaster of Privatization

A Red Privatization Horror Story

Conservatives and libertarians have been saying for a long, long time that if we just get rid of government and replace it with the private sector, everything will run a whole lot better.

The idea is that since the main goal of all private corporations is to make money, they’ll be much more willing than the government is to cut costs and eliminate waste. The result, conservatives and libertarians say, will be more efficient, responsible, and responsive services. That’s the theory, at least.

In reality, privatization of public services has been a total disaster wherever it’s been tried. And, as a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy shows, it’s also created huge opportunities for fraud and corruption. The report, which was released today and is titled “Pay to Prey,” focuses on how Republican governors in states all across the country used the cover of privatization to enrich campaign donors and political cronies. The worst culprits include some the biggest names in Republican politics.

In Florida Governor Rick Scott has made growing for-profit education one of his top priorities. And, in doing so, he helped out his political buddies and donors while screwing over Florida’s students. One of the biggest winners in Scott’s privatization push, for example, was an ALEC-linked company called K12, Inc. that got actually an “F” from Florida’s education department.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett has given huge legal contracts for defending his state’s voter ID suppression law to some of his top donors. Corbett is also trying to privatize Pennsylvania’s state liquor stores, a move that would mean big bucks for corporate allies like Walmart and Sheetz, a local gas station chain.

And in Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder has handed prison food services over to corporate giant Aramark. While the move has meant big bucks for Aramark, the report suggests it’s been an absolute disaster in every other possible way. Meals are infested with maggots, employees have been caught having sex with inmates, and now there are reports that one Aramark employee actually tried to hire a prisoner to kill someone for him. All in all, not a pretty picture.

These horror stories are a perfect example of why privatization is such a bad idea. Ultimately, private corporations are only interested in making money and are only really accountable to their shareholders, not “We the People.” The way they see it, it doesn’t matter if prisoners have to eat rotten meat, if students get a crappy education, or if for-profit hospitals like the ones in Texas don’t have proper staffing. All that matters is making a quick buck, and if that means screwing over the public, then so be it.

The disaster of privatization in places like Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania clearly shows us how public issues – things having to do with the commons – like education, healthcare, and criminal justice are just too important to outsource to corporations. And Republicans will never change their mind about selling the commons off to the highest bidder, because from the Republican point of view, these aren’t scandals or horror stories, they’re success stories.

All their talk about how privatization will make government more efficient is just cover for what they really want to do: enrich their corporate cronies and replace “We the People” with “our friends the billionaires.” It really is that simple. For Republicans, privatization is just a business opportunity. And they don’t care about the damage privatization does to our society because privatization destroys the one thing standing between them and the total corporate takeover of our democracy: our government. When you think of it that way, everything makes a lot more sense.

Our second president, John Adams, once said that “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” Adams was right, of course, but today’s Republicans see it the exact opposite way. For them, government is there to be looted.

Every time some Republican governor proposes letting private corporations run our schools or our prisons, it’s really only because, as Harry Truman said, “The Republicans believe in taking care of big business first and letting the little fellow take care of himself.” With a few exceptions like Teddy Roosevelt, it’s been that way since the 1880s, and probably always will be.

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