FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bush Puts a Contract Out on Federal Jobs

by ROBERT JENSEN

President Bush’s announcement last week of his intention to privatize up to half the federal workforce came with the usual confident talk about reducing government costs and improving services.Market ideologues may believe that, but there is no reason citizens should be so gullible. Instead, we might ask critical questions about the likely consequences of large-scale privatization and why the Bush gang is so keen on it.

Research suggests that where there is real market competition for relatively simple goods and services, governments can save money and ensure quality services through privatization. Contracting out tasks such as office cleaning may save taxpayers some money in some cases (though often at the cost of lower wages and reduced benefits for workers).

But that is not the majority of cases. Often the short-term savings that privatization promises evaporate quickly once competitors drop out; contractors who underbid to win a contract are free to raise rates later, often leaving governments with little choice but to accept. For complex contracts, oversight costs are high, or inadequate oversight leads to corruption. Experience at the local and state levels suggests that in services such as vehicle and highway maintenance, privatization actually ended up costing taxpayers more.

So, the cautious (dare we say “conservative”) position would be that when the complexity of the job or the nature of the market argues against privatization, we should go forward only after careful study demonstrates otherwise. But the Bush proposal suggests just the opposite — an assumption in favor of privatizing at breakneck speed, which means careful study will be overridden by ideology and good-old-boy politicking.

At one point in U.S. history a similar process ruled the day — the spoils system — and in 1883 a civil-service system was created to thwart politicians who used jobs and contracts to reward political allies and line their own pockets. Today’s officials assure us that they can be trusted to carry out privatization cleanly, but logic and experience argue for skepticism. Every politician who ever took money to lock in a contract for a buddy told the public, “You can trust me.”

If research and experience on privatization don’t support Bush’s enthusiasm, why he is pressing for such wholesale change?One potentially relevant fact: Last year 37. 4 percent of government workers were unionized, compared with 9 percent of private-sector employees. Since organized labor consistently supports the Democratic Party, it’s plausible that Bush simply wants to reduce the number of workers in a more unionized sector.

Even if short-term political payback is part of it, there may be a more fundamental goal, not only in contracting out union jobs but the push to privatize programs such as Social Security: Undercut any organization that might increase the political power of working people. Eliminate any program that might lead people to work for common interests. Destroy any ideas people might have about solidarity.

Even though most unions in the United States years ago accepted a subordinated role to big business, they are a target of the right-wing. Why? Because they remain a latent threat. Even if not engaged in radical political activity today, unions are a place where ordinary people can come together politically and wield power, and hence they must be eliminated.

Social Security is another obvious target. While hardly a complete solution to poverty among the elderly, it’s a successful program. That’s why the right-wing pundits and politicians have worked so hard to scare the public into believing Social Security is on the brink of collapse. The immediate goal is to allow Wall Street to get its hands on more money through private retirement funds, but the long-term goal is to privatize not just these programs but people’s minds, to try to eliminate any sense that we have common bonds and obligations to each other.

In Bush’s 2003 budget, this “competitive sourcing initiative” to eliminate federal government jobs is explained as part of the pursuit of “a market-based government unafraid of competition, innovation, and choice.”

I am not afraid of competition, innovation or choice. But I am deathly afraid of a market-based government, where the values of corporate capitalism — the pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all other considerations — will overwhelm the values of democracy — equality and liberty.

ROBERT JENSEN is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream and the pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire.”

He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail