By Bill Mefford
On Tuesday of this past week Democratic leaders, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer met with donald trump and both parties agreed on an infrastructure plan totaling $2 trillion. Not discussed was how to fund the plan. Both parties agreed to meet again in a few weeks to talk about where the money will come from and yes, that is when we should start worrying.
The agreement in principle on a $2 trillion dollar infrastructure deal, which will repair much of the country’s ailing roads and bridges was hailed this week as a rare sign of progress in a town stymied by political gridlock. Lord knows the main thoroughfare near my house desperately needs work and a failure to care for the nation’s infrastructure can lead to disaster.
But while this to many was seen as a sign of progress we need to pay attention to the details. The details are often where the graft and corruption lies and this plan will likely be no difference.
The McLatchy News Service has identified four areas where this administration plans to privatize government services. They include the Department of Veterans Affairs, college loans, medicare, and infrastructure. Prior to the 2016 election, now Treasury Secretary and billionaire Wilbur Ross proposed a plan to privatize infrastructure spending for up to $1 trillion.
The plan is to give enormous tax incentives to corporations which will be in addition to last year’s tax breaks for the rich. Ross claims that privatization saves money and saves time; government bureaucracy inherently costs too much and moves too slow. These claims, which are routinely made by business leaders looking to make enormous profits from government funds, are not accurate however.
The hollow claim that privatization is safer, more efficient, and less costly than government-run services is best seen when looking at for-profit prisons. Privatization does not mean safer and in fact, it often means more dangerous because, as in the case of private prisons, privately-run entities are not bound by oversight committees or regulations like government-run agencies and departments are.
Further, the supposed cost-savings are often illusive as well. The Sentencing Project’s study on private prisons tells of extensive studies that have done on the claim that privately-run prisons save money and they clearly show that no cost-savings can be found. In fact, the state of Ohio found that their private prisons actually cost more to run than publicly funded prisons. In addition, since the aim of private prisons is to make money, private prisons make significant cuts to vital services for those incarcerated like staffing and a lack of training for staff. This creates greater profits for corporations, but makes private prisons increasingly dangerous for those forced to live and work in them.
But when it comes to privatization of government services, safety and cost-savings for the taxpayer is not the goal. Making money for corporations is the goal.
The profit motive is the only motive that counts for corporations digging into public troughs. An article from several years ago in the Atlantic describes how the corruption of wholesale privatization works.
If multiple public functions are privatized, or partially privatized, government employees have huge incentives to curry favor with potential private employers by granting them rich contracts or consulting fees, and then subsequently getting jobs paying multiples of their government salaries -- or just giving nice perks to one's former colleagues and friends who left for the private sector. Waste and fraud are legion [in privatization efforts].
The revolving door between government service and the corporations linked to those agencies or departments is legendary in Washington DC. As a result, oversight is often overlooked and safety and professionalism are compromised. If anyone wants to “drain the swamp,” the idiotic slogan adopted by trump and his followers then we need more regulations, not less.
This is why we need to be alert when conservatives make claims that privatization “cuts costs” or “streamlines efficiency.” This is just code for giving their buddies, and often times themselves, some good old corporate pork.