Privatize it all, let God sort it out

Sometimes, when I am blogging, I think that the art is connecting things that initially seem disconnected and pondering them until I can organize disparate threads into a good blog entry. That exact process started when I was recently in Los Angeles for a few days at the start of a long road trip. I kept coming face-to-face with reminders of the ways that privatization is ruining much of our society. Even worse is the thought that as bad as these changes are for someone like me in the middle class, they are much worse for the working poor across this country. They are the people who will really lose when no one (other than God) sorts out the privatization mess we are making.

Be warned, this is a rather political blog entry.

As a self-employed photographer, I am technically a small business. I find government regulation as annoying as the next guy. Sales tax law is just one of many areas where I spend time and energy dealing with government regulations. I certainly am horrified when government money (my money) is stupidly spent, whether in R.I. or across the globe. On the other hand, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society,” according to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Yes, local governments are hurting, because of the economic recession and the resulting loss of tax revenues. But the cuts that are being made are mostly hurting people who really cannot bear the losses in the same way that I can. For example, when I was in Los Angeles, I found myself with chunks of free time between meetings, shoots, etc., something I often do. What I prefer to do is go to a public library for a couple hours, pull out my laptop and go to work. I also may look at the newspaper(s) at the library to keep up on current events.

All of the libraries in Los Angeles that I tried to visit were either shuttered or only open for very limited hours. When I am home, I ride the local buses run by Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, unlike most people in Rhode Island. For the last five years, the funding for RIPTA has been getting cut and the service becoming ever more infrequent. For someone like me who can wait for the next bus, use my wife’s car or take a taxi, the cutbacks are annoying, but nothing more. For the working poor, those same buses can be the difference between a job and unemployment (or worse.)

What does this have to do with privatization? The far right Republicans in this country have long held onto a philosophy nicknamed “starve the beast.” The idea is that government is the beast and if it is deprived of tax dollars it will whither and die. In its place will grow private services. The push to replace public services with private ones dovetails perfectly with the strategy of the growing extreme anti-government Republicans who are thrilled that government services are being cut back. Just one more disastrous example of this kind of blind privatization is airport security, which in case we have already forgotten, was largely privatized, prior to the security failures that resulted in the horrors of 9/11.

People who know me, especially my wife, know I have a nasty libertarian streak. I have blogged about my disdain for Socialism and the extreme left. I am often quite cynical about foolish government projects. I am big advocate of personal responsibility, which in most cases would align me with the Republicans. I have long held that the Republican Party was one of the things that this country (and the Democratic Party) needed to make them work. The competition between opposing political parties and opposing ideas is a good thing that makes ours a better country.

Speaking of Republicans, I live in a state governed by a former Republican who recently became an independent. The Republican party of his father, a politician who is revered here, has moved so far right that the Governor (and I) now are centrists. After the extreme Republicans have “starved the beast” and one-time essential services have been privatized (or vaporized) what will be left? As the blog title suggests, we will likely leave that for God to sort out, but that means nothing will really happen. It means that those who have, will do fine. Those who do not have will be as screwed as ever.

As I was driving around L.A. and reacting to the shuttered libraries (and the kids deprived of access to those libraries) the title for this blog popped into my head as “Privatize it all, let God sort it out.” Public libraries are the ultimate economic development tool and one of the greatest social equalizer in this country. Legions of writers, artists, musicians and poets tell of how their time in libraries saved them from poverty, despair, gangs and crime. The same anti-government crazies who say “those people” should work hard and raise themselves up are gutting the libraries and public education, the last roads to opportunity that are the only ways up for “those people.”

In that title, “Privatize it all, let God sort it out,” I was riffing on something that I had heard years back and more recently read more about, which had supposedly come from a division of the US Special Forces active during the Vietnam War who were supposed to have had patches and pins that read, “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.” As horrifying an idea as that is, I thought it aptly described the strategic of blame shifting that is happening in this country, lead by of those who would deprive the working poor of such basic services as library access.

According to Wikipedia, the original quote has been adapted in on form or another in many major conflicts, especially ones where enemy forces were not formal military units and were hard to separate from the civilian population. The original story goes that a commander of one of the Crusades was told that not everyone in a besieged city he was attacking was a heretic and some were good Catholics. The leader of that crusade, Arnaud-Amaury, responded in French, with a quote that has been translated as “Kill them all. God will know his own” or “”Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His.” He was shifting the responsibility for the horror he was about to unleash from his own shoulders to that of a higher authority. If that sounds a lot like the blame shifting common to the anti-government, pro-privatization crowds in action, I think it is.

Privatization can be a good thing, in certain situations. It brings competition and spurs innovation. Having said that, some parts of our society should not be privatized. In some situations, the common good out ways the profit motive, be that in public libraries, public transportation or public schools. The lame excuses being used to justify privatizing essential services like these look too much to me like “Privatize it all, let God sort it out.”

In all these cases, the current political one, the military examples in wars like in Vietnam and even in the Crusades, absolute power has been used to harm large numbers of people indiscriminately, supposedly in order to serve a larger good. Responsibility for individual action is shifted to someone who is non-existent, impossible to blame and rarely if ever subjected to criticism. Once that is done, no one is to blame, and more importantly, nothing is really done to “sort” anything out.

4 responses to “Privatize it all, let God sort it out”

  1. David, you are right on! Theologically I believe that God can and does act through governments, including libraries, transit systems and more. We need to make those judgements here and now — and do something about them.

  2. Bravo!
    This needs to be said. Truly compassionate conservative have mostly gone underground, and today’s ranting right-wing seems to be blind to the fact that we ALL benefit from public education and programs that help underprivileged Americans escape poverty and ignorance. Improve their situation and we’ll have more competent workers and a larger tax base.

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