Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ben Tarnoff discusses the growing number of basic public services which are being converted into private rents as profit motives are given precedence over democracy:
A profit-driven system doesn’t mean we get more for our money – it means someone gets to make more money off of us. The healthcare industry posts record profits and rewards its chief executives with the highest salaries in the country. It takes a peculiar frame of mind to see this arrangement as anything resembling efficient.

Attacking public services on the grounds of efficiency isn’t just incorrect, however – it’s beside the point. Decades of neoliberalism have corroded our capacity to think in non-economic terms. We’ve been taught that all fields of human life should be organized as markets, and that government should be run like a business. This ideology has found its perverse culmination in the figure of Donald Trump, a celebrity billionaire with no prior political experience who catapulted himself into the White House by invoking his expertise as an businessman. The premise of Trump’s campaign was that America didn’t need a president – it needed a CEO.
But government isn’t a business; it’s a different kind of machine. At its worst, it can be repressive and corrupt and autocratic. At its best, it can be an invaluable tool for developing and sustaining a democratic society. Among other things, this includes ensuring that everyone receives the resources they need to exercise the freedoms on which democracy depends. When we privatize public services, we don’t just risk replacing them with less efficient alternatives – we risk damaging democracy itself.

If this seems like a stretch, that’s because pundits and politicians have spent decades defining the idea of democracy downwards. It has come to mean little more than holding elections every few years. But this is the absolute minimum of democracy’s meaning. Its Greek root translates to “rule of the people” – not rule by certain people, such as the rich (plutocracy) or the priests (theocracy), but by all people. Democracy describes a way of organizing society in which the whole of the people determine how society should be organized.

What does this have to do with buses or schools or hospitals or houses? In a democracy, everyone gets to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. But that’s impossible if people don’t have access to the goods they need to survive – if they’re hungry or homeless or sick. And the reality is that when goods are rationed by the market, fewer people have access to them. Markets are places of winners and losers. You don’t get what you need – you get what you can afford.

By contrast, public services offer a more equitable way to satisfy basic needs. By taking things off the market, government can democratize access to the resources that people rely on to lead reasonably dignified lives. Those resources can be offered cheap or free, funded by progressive taxation. They can also be managed by publicly accountable institutions led by elected officials, or subject to more direct mechanisms of popular control.
- Rowena Mason and Anushka Asthana report on a new UK study showing how austerian politics have cut into the well-being of public-sector workers. And Jeff Perry writes that the Saskatchewan Party has been inflicting similar damage on teachers (among other public servants) even before its latest attempt to systematically transfer money from provincial workers to corporate cronies.

- Binta Baxter highlights how massive debts - including those run up through an exploitative student loan system - effectively turn workers into serfs.

- Emily Booth shares her experience as a mother just barely making ends meet. And Ainslie Cruickshank reports on the plight of the hundreds of Toronto women who face homelessness at the time they birth - while feeling compelled to pretend otherwise in order to avoid losing their children.

- Finally, CBC reports on a Canada Day security setup which could hardly have been much better designed to punish people for making the effort to share in a public event. And the Ottawa Citizen publishes letters from a few of the people affected.

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