Friday, September 23, 2005

The Ruse of Privatization

I've read a number of articles in recent days about how a philosophy of "small government" - allegedly the property of either the federal government or that of the Gulf Coast states - is to blame for the disastrous aftermath of the hurricane. Although there may be some truth to this response, overall I believe that it distorts the facts and the real reasons for the tragedy. First, there is no way to reconcile the philosophy of small government with that of the Bush administration. Under President Bush, federal spending has increased to record levels; Bush has never in his Presidency vetoed a single bill, signing some of the most egregious pork barrel bills to ever pass through Congress; Bush has aggressively promoted expansions of federal programs, most notably the Medicare prescription drug benefit; in January of 2004, in the middle of the Iraq war, Bush threw his support behind a multi-billion dollar plan to launch a manned mission to Mars. Whatever else government has been under George W. Bush, it hasn't been small. From what little I know of the government of Louisiana, it isn't particularly small either, and it wasn't smallness alone which led to the failure to adequately secure the city. Rather, it was a complete lack of efficiency, transparency, and accountability. Money was spent in the wrong places, at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons. Priorities were out of order. Special interests were served first. Calling this debacle small government is a misnomer. It is bad government.
The entire phenomenon of so-called "privatization" which has become the familiar hallmark of the Bush era needs to be re-examined. It's been commonly assumed that privatization means what fiscal conservatives say it means: a reduction in the size of federal budgets, overall decreases in federal spending, the populist empowering of the private sector ("it's your money.") As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that this is actually the case. Under conservative rule, government has continued to grow at a more than healthy rate. What's changed is how government operates and who it serves. Under the Bush administration, government has become steadily less transparent, less accountable, and alarmingly inefficient. Cronyism and loyalty has replaced competence as the guiding principle of job appointments; the burden of social welfare has been drastically shifted onto the middle and lower classes; the refusal of the federal government to pay its share has placed an unprecedented burden on state and local governments. The overall result is the precise opposite of what the traditional conservatives claimed would happen under privatization: the federal government is hemorraging cash at an unsustainable rate. How is this possible? The answer is that privatization is something completely different than what it has claimed to be. Far from a reduction in the power and scope of government, privatization is actually a radical expansion of it. Imagine, for a moment, what a future might look like under the successful prosecution of Bush's conservative revolution. The liberal-democratic model of government would be entirely subsumed by the rise of the new capitalist super-state. This state would write and enforce its own laws, dictate public policy, control the flow of information, and allocate natural resources on a global scale. Its authority would be practically synonymous with the global economy itself. Survival outside of its orbit would be practically impossible. This exercise in science-fiction reveals that George W. Bush is presiding over not a reduction in the size or capacity of a traditional democratic government but rather the renovation and expansion of a vast politico-corporate bureaucracy, a new social class. While the outward form of the liberal state may remain intact, the public functions it has traditionally served are being actively transferred to these new authorities. Again, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the power of government in this country is not on the wane. Rather, the power of democratic government is on the wane. Its usurper threatens to establish a hegemony not seen in North America since the forces of King George III were evicted - indeed, of much the same bearing and disposition.

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