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Privatizing the Public Good
Published on Wednesday, January 12, 2005 by The Nation
Privatizing the Public Good
by Katrina vanden Heuvel
 

Honest economists will tell you that the financial solvency of Social Security can be guaranteed well into the next century. So why does the President insist on adding private retirement accounts into the reform mix? Because their purpose is not to save Social Security but, like a Trojan horse, to destroy it. Personal accounts are part and parcel of Bush's domestic policy agenda: an assault on the very concept of The Public--its goods, services and trust.

Social Security, which provides a public good: the minimum financial security of retirees, is only the latest example. Faith-based initiatives were the privatization of government social welfare programs to religious institutions. Vouchers were the privatization of public education to religious schools. Drilling in the Artic National Preserve is the privatization of public lands for corporate profit. Even national security, the ultimate public good, has been partially privatized: "Security contractors" (mercenaries in the old parlance) were interrogating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, before the scandal broke.

Privatization shouldn't be confused with free enterprise. It is not capitalism; it is crony capitalism--the diversion of tax-dollars from the government to private individuals and institutions. Faith-based initiatives divert tax revenues to private religious institutions. Personal retirement accounts will divert a significant portion of payroll taxes to Wall Street in the form of management fees.

It should be no surprise that Bush and Cheney are proponents of privatization, because they--just like the oligarchs of Russia--have been its beneficiaries. Cheney's fortune was made at Halliburton, which profits handsomely from the outsourcing of Defense Department functions. Bush's fortune was made from the sale of the Texas Rangers, whose value was significantly enhanced by Arlington city taxpayers.

In this light, the Armstrong Williams scandal is not an aberration: It represents the partial privatization of White House public relations. The victim in this case is the public's trust in the independence of the press. But the public shouldn't expect an apology from the Bush Administration. Hate means never having to say you're sorry.

© 2005 The Nation

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