Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Keep 'Em Coming

Trey Smith

I realize that a lot of average folks have bought into the idea that privatization isn't such a bad idea. They have been convinced that private companies can manage public services at a savings (even though most studies show the exact opposite). What I don't think far too many of my fellow citizens realize is that private firms have different priorities than government and these different priorities change the nature of the services offered.

While government tries to be cost-effective, the private firm's overall objective is to generate a profit. When making a profit is the main goal, things like quality service, fairness, good wages, health and safety, and environmental stewardship take a back seat. If a private company runs afoul of any of these things, their first order of business is to try to shift these costs onto an unwilling public. If successful -- and they often are -- the company gets to reap the financial benefits, while being allowed to shirk the economic responsibility.

When making a profit, particularly a short-term profit, is your main objective, it changes your perspective on what constitutes good government policy and these changes frequently conflict with the public good. Take, for example, the private prison industry.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest private prison corporation in this country. According to Common Dreams, the CCA has a plan to purchase state-run prisons in 48 states. If fully or partially successful, the CCA would soon have a major interest in keeping the prison population in these states as high as possible!

If your company wants to maintain or increase the number of incarcerated persons, then you will do everything in your power to see that this aim comes to fruition. You will lobby hard for stiffer sentencing laws and you will work with government officials to make more crimes subject to prison terms. You will also fight against alternative solutions to incarceration because fewer prisoners means less profit.

Will such advocacy make our communities safer? Probably not, but you aren't concerned with public safety -- your focus is on generating as much profit as possible. And so, while you will portray yourself in public as a disinterested bystander, in private, you will be working hard to undermine what is best for the people and the communities they live in.

By and large, this is why privatization is not such a wonderful idea. Once a private corporation has a pony in the race, they will do everything possible to insure that their horse wins. If it means shooting all the other horses, then so be it.

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