Sunday, June 8, 2014

Republican Fantasies, Part I

Republicans cater to their base with positions on abortion, marriage equality, immigration, etc., but they claim their one big thing is opposition to government in general.  Putting aside for the moment the contradiction between this position and their wish for the government to force women to carry pregnancies to term against their will, that private enterprise is always good and government always bad, doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

My conservative friends reflexively trash government.  One friend worked for the EPA and observed some very bad hiring choices and some poor management.  That experience has scarred him for life about government.  My own experience, at the National Institutes of Health was of the very reverse kind, observing people working 12 hour days and getting Nobel Prizes.  Some government has some problems, but some government serves the people well, and some companies do poorly.

For example, in The New York Times this morning two articles appeared showing how bad private enterprise can be.  First, Gretchen Morgenson reports on an investigation into the failure of General Motors to recall an ignition switch before the lives of at least thirteen people were lost.  This is private enterprise killing people.  And it happened without anyone at GM being able to bring themselves to take responsibility for a decision to recall the defective part.  As Ms. Morgenson reports

Shifting responsibility for problems to others was deep in the company’s DNA, the report shows. Avoiding accountability was so automatic that it even had a name, like a yoga pose. “The G.M. salute” involved “a crossing of the arms and pointing outwards toward others, indicating that the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me,” the report said.  Along these lines was the “G.M. nod”— when everyone agrees to a plan of action after a meeting “but then leaves the room with no intention to follow through,” the report said.
Republicans, and Democrats, were outraged (and they should have been) by veterans dying before medical care could be marshaled to help them.  But I'd like to know, where are Republicans on General Motors negligently killing people. The truth is, both government and private enterprise can be poorly run and the solution is to fix it, whether it is government or private enterprise.


Next, there's a privately run prison in Mississippi:

Open fires sometimes burn unheeded in the solitary-confinement units of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a privately run state prison in Meridian, 90 miles east of here.  Inmates spend months in near-total darkness. Illnesses go untreated. Dirt, feces and, occasionally, blood are caked on the walls of cells.
Private enterprise has no business running prisons, for example, here and here and here.  Taxpayer money is not being saved, the public is not being served by the inhuman conditions being forced on inmates.  Are we no better than medieval societies?  Does the Mississippi State government really believe that their citizens will be better off releasing prisoners into the population who've been endlessly tortured?

The fact is there's no incentive for a private company to treat inmates any better than animals.  This is a prime example for a failure of private enterprise.  That all government is bad and all private enterprise good is a Libertarian inspired Republican fantasy.