What if we had no government services and everything we used to get from government was run by private corporations? McDonald’s could be running the welfare system, Target the public schools and Walmart our mass transportation networks. What would be wrong with that?
According to Donald Cohen, director of the nonprofit research and action group In the Public Interest, there’s a long list of problems we face when private companies take over government services. For one, it’s hard to find out how much money is being paid to the company’s employees and corporate heads. And, once a formerly public system is taken over by a private company, there’s often no way that voters can set standards for those salaries, the quality of the work done or the cost of services to the public. Right now if you don’t like McDonald’s corporate policies, you can pick another restaurant. But when private companies take over government services,
I am of course glad to see President Obama focus the country on what he correctly identifies as the most pressing national problem, the crushing of the middle class. The solution he laid out in his address at Knox College, a middle-out economics which sees the middle class as the engine of the economy, is both good economics and a powerful political message. It is what progressives and Democrats need to keep emphasizing over and over again, both rhetorically and in their legislative agendas.
When it came to the broad foundations of policy, the president’s outline of the pillars of a strong middle class was on point: good jobs, quality education and job training, affordable health care, good housing, retirement security and strong neighborhoods.
Still, I found the speech disappointing. The president only nibbled at the biggest change in our economy, the relentless decline in good jobs.
The next time a politician calls on the state or federal government to trim its workforce – right after promising to “grow jobs” – it might be good for him to remember that one in five working Americans is a public employee. Not only does thinning the public sector reduce the number of services and quality of life enjoyed by taxpayers, it also throws more people onto the unemployment rolls.
Those who see themselves as swashbuckling entrepeneurs or disciples of Ayn Rand do have an alternative to public sector employment in mind – the privatization of work that has historically been performed by government.
In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that researches the dynamics of privatization and government contracting, has just released a study showing in sharp relief the dangers that come with such an alternative. This backgrounder brief is titled, rather unambiguously, “Six Reasons Why Government Contracting Can Negatively Impact Quality Jobs and Why it Matters for Everyone.”
The wealthiest Americans have a long-held delusion, passed along through their media outlets to the rest of us, that they pick up the bill for most of our country’s needs, and that middle-class public workers and unions benefit from their generosity. But facts, not emotions, are needed to provide the truth. And there are plenty of eye-opening facts that refute the far-right claims.
Fact #1: Government employees make up 16.7% of U.S. employees and receive 17.6% of the pay.
The public vs. private “who gets higher pay?” battle has convincing arguments on both sides. Yet a careful analysis of Census Department data confirms that government employees earn less than 1% more than private sector employees. Recent (2009) compensation figures reveal that: