Dubya Principle

November 2005

Some of you may remember the Peter Principle whereby one is promoted until one reaches the level of one's incompetence. Well, today we have the Dubya Principle in which government is enabled to fail so that privatization can be shown to be preferable.

It is a simple idea: Big government is baaad, the smaller it is the better we will do. And it has a corollary: Big business is goooood, the bigger it gets, the better we will all do. I guess it depends on whom you are defining as "we." If you are defining "we" as the ten percent of the super-wealthy and powerful, then it doesn't take a room full of economists to demonstrate why enormously powerful monopolies and a weak government subservient to said monopolies would be an attractive proposition. If however you view "we" as including the other 90% of us, and especially if you mean the 51% of the population that is at the other end of the prosperity spectrum from "the haves and the have mores" then these simple ideas are, quite obviously, simply lies.

But we have elected, first with Reagan, then with Bush Sr. and now with his son George W., administrations that want to privatize government and hand its assets and responsibilities over to private interests. They call this "reducing the size of government." They say they want to do this because government is inefficient and wasteful, whereas private capital is efficient and frugal.

In fact, half of all new private businesses fail and the vast majority of the Fortune 100 corporations are still in business today because of massive government bailouts, subsidies, and preferential treatment. The truth is that they want to privatize government for the same reason John Dillinger wanted to rob banks -- it's where the money is.

What champions of privatization want to do is to take all the assets of the government and give them to private corporations to run for their profit. For example, if my local municipality has spent 100 years putting together a water supply for my community, something we paid for and we own, these fellas want to give it to some guy so that he can make a profit selling me water. Sometimes the new owner is asked to make a modest investment in his new business, but seldom does that entry fee represent anything like the value of the assets that have been privatized into his care.

Formerly, water -- clean, healthy water was practically a right. It didn't matter who I was. Turn on the tap and the water flows. If it didn't, there was hell to pay and we could vote the water commissioners, councilmen, or whoever was responsible, out of office, and even demand that they be heavily fined or jailed for betraying a public trust.

Once privatized, what was our water isn't a right anymore. It is a product. If it becomes more profitable to do something else with it than to sell it to us -- at whatever rate the market will bear, then we'd better get used to not having that water.

But above and beyond this kind of shell game, one of the worst things these champions of privatization do is to set up the government to fail, purposefully to demonstrate to us all that government can't do the job properly.

If you were looking for an executive to run your insurance company, you would not hire someone who said that they thought insurance was a bad thing. It just stands to reason that someone who belives insurance to be bad is going to do a worse job than someone who honestly feels insurance to be a valuable community service.

FEMA is an excellent example. The administration appointed some crony who didn't have any more qualifications for that job than I have to do brain surgery. They selectively underfunded different pieces of it and made sure it was way top-heavy with managers and that everybody who actually did any real work was both over-worked and under-paid. Along come a few natural disasters, and of course it failed.

This is really a neat trick. If you are the anti-government ultra-right-wing, you can set things up to fail. They can do this because they're in charge and nobody is looking, or if they are, they also own the majority of the news media and they won't report it. When they're successful in reverse-engineering failure, instead of being run out of town on a rail because they were guardians of a sacred public trust, they point at the wounded, broken government (that they broke) and shrug their shoulders and say, "See? we told you it was only a matter of time before the whole thing fell apart! But don't worry, we have a cunning plan..."

So, when schools are destroyed by storms and floods, instead of spending money immediately to make new schools, and temporarily holding lots of smaller schools in anywhere we can find, we give the kids a voucher to temporarily pay to attend a private school, so there is no money left to properly rebuild the public schools that were destroyed.

There is a thing called Power. Everybody wants power, at least sufficient power to run their own lives. Some people want more and more power. Most of these kind of people used to go into government, but they now go into business. They know that there is only so much power. If you have a strong central government that is democratically controlled and is responsive to the will of the electorate, then you have much of the power in public hands. Since it is in public hands it cannot also be in private hands. This is the nature of power: government, business, and other interests in a society compete for power. Privatization of government is privatization of power -- it is removing power from the people and concentrating it in individuals. This is a dangerous thing to do because power corrupts: Do any of us really want to live in The United States of Walmart? Those who already wield great power without much constraint need more constraint but get less and less. That way lies despotism -- and eventually revolution.

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