FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bush Puts a Contract Out on Federal Jobs

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.

 

More articles by:

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.

June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rothstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail