Reviving #ThePublicGood, part 6: Government is not a business | #TOpoli #onpoli #cdnpoli

adam smith

One of the most persistent memes in the project of governance is the suggestion that government should be run like a business. Market and private-sector fetishists are nothing new, of course, and they’ve got big bucks behind them. I’ve cited the Fraser Institute previously, of course, so no need to focus on them any longer than absolutely necessary, but they’re hardly alone. There’s the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, and a whole suppurating cesspool of yargle-barglers dedicated to advancing the decomposing meme about Letting the Market Decide. (You’ll note I’m not providing links. Let ’em get their own clicks.)

Once again, let’s go back to first principles. What is A Market? Pardon me for recycling my own wankery, but:

A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services (including labor) in exchange for money from buyers. It can be said that a market is the process by which the prices of goods and services are established.

We’ll just set aside, for now, the artificiality of the market as a social construct, never mind the hypocrisy displayed by so many market fundamentalists, and just focus on — yes, that’s right — the public good.

Markets may be good at some things. But, it says here, they’re not so shit-hot at meeting human needs, ensuring living wages and decent benefits, or functioning as the underpinnings of healthy communities. This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, when you consider some of the underlying assumptions — specifically those about rational self-interest, maximizing one’s own benefit, etc. Not to mention the assumption that private actors indulging their greed will inevitably produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

Again, let’s make our own biases clear.

When people place self-interest above all, ignore the rules of civilized behaviour, and don’t give a shit about anyone else, we call them sociopathic. When international investment vehicles and corporations act that way, they’re just maximizing shareholder value and reacting to “The Market.”

Not enough time or space to list here all the dislocations, upheaval, damage, and human cost of our inexplicable decades of deference to “The Market,” so let’s move on and ask why it is that its adherents seem to have such a chubby for The Private Sector.

Perhaps it can start with one of my favourite piles of Zombie Bullshit: the private sector is inherently more efficient because of the profit motive. Forget about evidence for a moment; let’s just unpack some of the assumptions in here: what do the market fundamentalists mean by efficiency? Is it a question of generating greater returns with fewer inputs? Or does it perhaps mean arbitrarily devaluing some of those inputs for ideological reasons? Human labour, for example?

Sure, you can max out your profit margin if you can get away with paying people next to nothing and treating them like shit. Make union organizers disappear the way they’ve been doing in Colombia. Use the TFW program to create a permanent disadvantaged and terrified underclass of people too frightened to assert their rights or stand up for themselves, and then piss all over Canadian citizens for lacking a proper work ethic.

Let’s be clear: the continuing private-sector fetish makes it easier to rationalize the reduction of human beings to mere economic inputs, easier to throw away like used kleenex when they’re no longer useful or profitable. Not that that has anything to do with certain special-interest groups’ (cough, CFIB, cough) hard-on for temporary foreign workers and hatred for unions. Or the so-called Right to Work legislation that Tim Hudak may or may not introduce in Ontario, depending on the breaks. Or the decades-long race to the bottom via so-called “free trade” and the voluntary surrender of myriad policy tools for the sake of “investor confidence.” The agenda is obvious — progressive enfeeblement and eventual destruction of the public sector, and the public sphere as such.

Once again, let’s exercise our critical-thinking skills. Who benefits from this? Let’s just set aside, for the moment, all the market-fundamentalist, private-sector-fetishizing cant, and ask ourselves: who’s profiting from all this? The people whose jobs are disappearing? The public sphere that’s increasingly stripped of resources? The communities left without the means to see to the needs of their citizens? The public infrastructure that’s being privatized and/or left to fall apart?

What if, ultimately, meeting human and community needs isn’t profitable? Should they just be blown off?

Again, back to basics. The function of government is not to make a profit, but to Cultivate the Public Good. It is there precisely because doing so is not profitable.

And this, more than anything, is why we must get the language of the business school out of the project of governance — it’s perversion. Infection, even. Remember the lesson about discourse and winning back the words? When we allow others to force us to think and talk in their terms, when we let them define the discursive turf, we’ve allowed them to capture and colonize the whole public sphere. We’re working with their alien ideas, their values, and their assumptions. It’s no wonder we’re at a disadvantage.

Well, fuck that. This is not the private sector. The language of business is utterly inappropriate for governance. Government is there to provide for human and community needs, not to make a profit or enhance the brand or service customers or generate shareholder value. The requirement that public agencies and offices should have to have a fucking “business plan” is an obscenity. If you like the private sector so much, then go back there and leave government to people who understand and are committed to its role in advancing the public good.

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One Mexican town finds more security by throwing out the police – CSMonitor.com

One Mexican town finds more security by throwing out the police – CSMonitor.com.

Interesting piece in the Monitor about residents of a small Mexican community who evidently stood up to the drug cartels, illegal loggers, and corrupt police by “throwing them out” — the piece doesn’t explain how they managed that — and taking responsibility for their own security, managing their own local resources, and looking out for each other.

It sounds hopeful, until you start wondering: why haven’t the loggers, cartelistas and corrupt cops descended on places like this and carried out a massacre or two? Or at least “disappeared” a few local leaders? Pour encourager les autres.

And “throwing out” official authorities in order to re-assert local autonomy? Putting community needs ahead of corporate profits and international investors? Can’t picture that sitting well with the “free trade” advocates either. What if something like this were to spread?

From @mtaibbi, a Christmas message from Wall Street | #classwarfare #uspoli

Apparently, we’d all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

Matt Taibbi plays his violin for the poor, victimized, super-rich of America. The sociopathic ways they behave, their parasitic and corrupting effect on civil society, and their open contempt for everyone else … of course, there aren’t any lessons for Canada in any of this.

Nor could we possibly see any of this in terms of class, because of course, this is America, where anyone can make it to the top if you just work hard enough. Bootstraps and all that.

(Say the C word, Matt. Come on. You can do it.)

(h/t Edstock at The Galloping Beaver)

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The #Occupy movement and the U.S. party system: a prescription?

It is telling that our founders recognized the need for a semblance of democratic governance, if only to establish the legitimacy of the regime they established.  This is why capitalists and their political representatives have always been reluctant to quash democracy altogether.

The democratic character of the regime under which we live has waxed and waned over the past two and a third centuries.  Today, it is at an especially low ebb; and unless current trends are reversed, the situation is sure to become even worse – now that corporate “persons,” as our Supreme Court defines them, are, thanks to that Court, less constrained than they used to be in their pursuit of political influence.

Of course, we still have elections that are bitterly contested.  But however polarized the electoral scene has become, there is little genuine political contestation in it.   Our Tweedle Dums and Tweedle Dees despise one another and display their contempt profusely, but their politics is of a piece; they are all, in their own ways, faithful servants of the capitalist order. 

Definitely worth a look.

While this piece on Counterpunch is written in an American context, much of the underlying analysis is applicable to the Canadian experience as well. It addresses the class aspect, the suborning of democratic institutions by elites, and the fundamental challenge of maintaining popular democratic sovereignty when so much of the economic sphere is seemingly beyond the ambit of democratic governance. While our society may not yet be polarized to the extent that we see to the south, the warnings are there in the widening inequality gap and in the level of popular disengagement evident in the low levels of voter turnout in recent elections.

I won’t pretend that anything here is the definitive explanation of the Occupy movement’s significance, or try to provide an exhaustive set of reasons for its enduring resonance. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that a big part of the reason for its success is in its implicit recognition of the futility of electoral politics, as currently practiced. In that light, Andrew Levine’s call for participation in the U.S. primary process seems counterintuitive on first glance, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Yes, there’s always a danger of co-optation. And yes, the figureheads can talk one game while playing another. But given what I’ve seen from the Occupy movement (its lack of hierarchy, its refusal to engage in the kind of stilted and reductionist dialogue demanded by traditional media outlets and communication channels), I believe it has the potential to redraw the entire terrain. The system may well be rigged, but effective and strategic participation in it will, at the very least, force it to react.

Are there lessons here for Canada? I don’t think the possibility can be ruled out.

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Wall Street Firms Spy on Protesters in Tax-Funded Center | #OccupyWallStreet | AlterNet

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“Wall Street’s audacity to corrupt knows no bounds and the cooptation of government by the 1 per cent knows no limits. How else to explain $150 million of taxpayer money going to equip a government facility in lower Manhattan where Wall Street firms, serially charged with corruption, get to sit alongside the New York Police Department and spy on law abiding citizens.”

Anyone still not sure about the extent and intensity of the current class war? Anyone still have any doubts about the nature of power in the United States, and why and on whose behalf it is exercised?

Wall Street Firms Spy on Protesters in Tax-Funded Center | #OccupyWallStreet | AlterNet

Media_httpimagesalter_sexji

“Wall Street???s audacity to corrupt knows no bounds and the cooptation of government by the 1 per cent knows no limits. How else to explain $150 million of taxpayer money going to equip a government facility in lower Manhattan where Wall Street firms, serially charged with corruption, get to sit alongside the New York Police Department and spy on law abiding citizens.”

Anyone still not sure about the extent and intensity of the current class war? Anyone still have any doubts about the nature of power in the United States, and why and on whose behalf it is exercised?

More from Chris Hedges on #OccupyWallStreet: Why the Elites Are in Trouble

Why the Elites Are in Trouble

by Chris Hedges

Ketchup, a petite 22-year-old from Chicago with wavy red hair and glasses with bright red frames, arrived in Zuccotti Park in New York on Sept. 17. She had a tent, a rolling suitcase, 40 dollars’ worth of food, the graphic version of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and a sleeping bag. She had no return ticket, no idea what she was undertaking, and no acquaintances among the stragglers who joined her that afternoon to begin the Wall Street occupation. She decided to go to New York after reading the Canadian magazine Adbusters, which called for the occupation, although she noted that when she got to the park Adbusters had no discernable presence. 

The lords of finance in the looming towers surrounding the park, who toy with money and lives, who make the political class, the press and the judiciary jump at their demands, who destroy the ecosystem for profit and drain the U.S. Treasury to gamble and speculate, took little notice of Ketchup or any of the other scruffy activists on the street below them. The elites consider everyone outside their sphere marginal or invisible. And what significance could an artist who paid her bills by working as a waitress have for the powerful? What could she and the others in Zuccotti Park do to them? What threat can the weak pose to the strong? Those who worship money believe their buckets of cash, like the $4.6 million JPMorgan Chase gave a few days ago to the New York City Police Foundation, can buy them perpetual power and security. Masters all, kneeling before the idols of the marketplace, blinded by their self-importance, impervious to human suffering, bloated from unchecked greed and privilege, they were about to be taught a lesson in the folly of hubris. 

Even now, three weeks later, elites, and their mouthpieces in the press, continue to puzzle over what people like Ketchup want. Where is the list of demands? Why don’t they present us with specific goals? Why can’t they articulate an agenda? 

The goal to people like Ketchup is very, very clear. It can be articulated in one word—REBELLION. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and exercise power. They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices, and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the oligarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an effort to take our country back.

This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our black sites. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt to be educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in trouble. That is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don’t understand what is happening. They are deaf, dumb and blind. 

via commondreams.org

Some further thoughts from the guy who pulled Kevin O’Leary’s sweater up over his head.

What does this mean for the similar actions planned for Canadian cities this weekend? Stay tuned …

Related posts:

More from Chris Hedges on #OccupyWallStreet: Why the Elites Are in Trouble

Why the Elites Are in Trouble

Ketchup, a petite 22-year-old from Chicago with wavy red hair and glasses with bright red frames, arrived in Zuccotti Park in New York on Sept. 17. She had a tent, a rolling suitcase, 40 dollars’ worth of food, the graphic version of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and a sleeping bag. She had no return ticket, no idea what she was undertaking, and no acquaintances among the stragglers who joined her that afternoon to begin the Wall Street occupation. She decided to go to New York after reading the Canadian magazine Adbusters, which called for the occupation, although she noted that when she got to the park Adbusters had no discernable presence. 

The lords of finance in the looming towers surrounding the park, who toy with money and lives, who make the political class, the press and the judiciary jump at their demands, who destroy the ecosystem for profit and drain the U.S. Treasury to gamble and speculate, took little notice of Ketchup or any of the other scruffy activists on the street below them. The elites consider everyone outside their sphere marginal or invisible. And what significance could an artist who paid her bills by working as a waitress have for the powerful? What could she and the others in Zuccotti Park do to them? What threat can the weak pose to the strong? Those who worship money believe their buckets of cash, like the $4.6 million JPMorgan Chase gave a few days ago to the New York City Police Foundation, can buy them perpetual power and security. Masters all, kneeling before the idols of the marketplace, blinded by their self-importance, impervious to human suffering, bloated from unchecked greed and privilege, they were about to be taught a lesson in the folly of hubris. 

Even now, three weeks later, elites, and their mouthpieces in the press, continue to puzzle over what people like Ketchup want. Where is the list of demands? Why don’t they present us with specific goals? Why can’t they articulate an agenda? 

The goal to people like Ketchup is very, very clear. It can be articulated in one word—REBELLION. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and exercise power. They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices, and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the oligarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an effort to take our country back.

This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our black sites. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt to be educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in trouble. That is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don’t understand what is happening. They are deaf, dumb and blind. 

Some further thoughts from the guy who pulled Kevin O’Leary’s sweater up over his head.

What does this mean for the similar actions planned for Canadian cities this weekend? Stay tuned …

Related posts: