Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Dangers of Privatization

Privatization-a new word and an old concept. There is a dangerous trend in the United States that has been afoot for the past several decades, that of privatization. Privatization, to lay out the case, is simply the effort to take public entities and institutions and put them in the hands and under the control of private interests. Highways, parks, prisons, schools, public services, healthcare- everything of public value is being sought after by certain public officials to be remitted to private interests for the benefit and use of private investment. There used to be a time in this country—and throughout much of the Western world, when the lives of the rich and comfortable and the lives of the poor were quite different. Not more than a century and a half ago the realities of American society were such that, if you wanted the services of a doctor, you paid for it, or if you wanted your children to receive any level of education, one paid for that too. As such, these services were considered privileges of the wealthy elite. There were parks that belonged to the rich and roads that belonged to the rich and police that worked on behalf of the rich. All of these things worked for the benefit, prosperity, and upkeep of a certain class of people in society.

If one was poor, to learn to read and write was a privilege. Any schooling beyond the first or second grade was considered noteworthy. The services of a doctor were something in the realm of imagination. One could really define one’s life by the parameters of the community you lived in. The average person never traveled more than three or four miles beyond their place of birth at any given point in their lives and their life’s prospects never contained more than dreams and hopes of what their local community could offer them. If you lived in the rural, you worked on the farms, if you lived in the cities, you worked in the factories. People eked out meager existences for little pay and little reward for their life’s efforts.

There is an interesting continuum that exists between the wealthy elite of not so very long ago and those interests in American society who would like to refashion our society in that model. What transpired between that time and the times we live in now was nothing short of social revolution. Beginning in the last decades of the 19th century, there were urgent calls for social reform and a strong push towards remaking society to extend better living conditions to those at the bottom of the economic ladder. With many middle and upper-class women such as Jane Addams and Margaret Sanger taking the lead, reforms were made to clean up the cities, to eradicate disease and poverty, and to ensure the medical, moral, and social needs of those that existed at the bottom rungs of society were taken care of. Other people, like Mother Jones, Mary Lease, and Ida B. Wells fought for better living conditions and social justice for workers, Blacks, women, and every other oppressed group in America. They and others like them fought for government intervention in the disease and decay overrunning urban America-and the founding of social work as an occupation. They fought for an eight hour work day, a living wage, public education, and the rights of workers to organize. They lived through such tragedies as the Triangle Shirt Waist massacre, the Ludlow Massacre, and the race riots that swept this nation in the summers of 1917 and 1919. They remade this society and refashioned it to broaden the horizons of every person who lived on American soil.

In this new millennium, you have such people as Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, trying to sell the public highways to private companies. You have Mike Rogers, a republican congressman from Alabama crying over the injury that healthcare reform legislation will do to insurance companies. You have a congress that sells our public airwaves, public health, and even national security to those who will pay for their reelection bids.

This current debate over healthcare is really a debate over privatization. Will the public health be guaranteed and publicly funded as apart of our social contract or will we contend with Blue Cross Blue Shield and other major corporations who are more than willing to step in? It is time that we looked at this debate in a new light. It is time that we viewed the healthcare debate as a debate over privatization. We must decide whether we will hand over our national resources to private interests and if so, at what cost. These are matters that cannot be taken lightly, but must weigh on the conscience of every soul in this country.