What the UAE Seaports Deal Teaches Us


The proposal that the United States turn over management of its East Coast and Gulf seaports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates has thus far been handled as a call for demagogy, not for proposals to enhance a substantive innovation of far-reaching promise. America’s commercial genius, indeed its future efficiency and prosperity, have thereby been stopped short. Two important questions have not been entertained.

The first of them is that if, as almost all public parties to the dispute agree, privatizing seaport management to state-owned foreign companies is a good idea, why stop at the water’s edge?

The United States has more than a dozen "inland ports," as government manuals call them-points of entry for people and cargo coming across our land borders. These, too, could be privatized to state-owned companies.

Mexico is capable of managing our land borders, and worthy of our trust. Its government has been an ally in the U.S.-led Drug War for more than 25 years, and it has historically discouraged its natives from illegally emigrating to the United States, for the most natural of reasons: it has paid the cost of birthing and educating them.

Mexicans have been big investors in the United States since World War II, and Mexican companies are today big players in the American auto, ceramics, steel, glass, and cement industries. They export telenovelas as well. The Mexican government has extensive experience in customs and immigration management, having operated inland ports on our southern border for more than 300 years.

Dozens of other inefficient government functions are crying to privatized too, and doing so would rid our government of deficits, making room in our budget for a new round of tax cuts. Among the money-losers are the following agencies, whose best chance for a return profitability lies with privatization to the following nations:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms-to Russia, which since 1991 has led the world in the sale of arms to non-state purchasers.

The Department of Defense-to China, whose Red Army, with its corps of real estate captains and joint venture colonels, has led the way in making military forces pay for themselves.

The Office of the Presidency-to Cuba, whose leadership has provided stability and continuity to its people for half a century.

These proposals have for some time been percolating in the hallways of Washington and break rooms of banking houses in New York, and thus far only one challenge has presented itself, an answer to the second of the important questions that the seaport controversy raises.

It is this: if our government should outsource the management of inefficient state-owned facilities and programs, as with our seaports, to foreign companies that are also state-owned, How Can Those Guys Make Them Profitable When We Can’t?

This paradox merits scholarly study and funding, as well as serious attention by policy makers.

DICK J. REAVIS is a Texas journalist who is an assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at dickjreavis@yahoo.com.


November 26, 2015
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