I have often mused over the differences between privatization and governmental controls, but not in the way that it seems most do. As you may be aware, I rarely write pieces here that are blatantly about politics, and with the onslaught of initiatives being passed or rejected in many states, not to mention healthcare reform and the endless bickering over who is most wrong or most corrupt, I’m not really all that much more inclined to. Yet through it all, one issue keeps cropping up: How much should government get involved in people’s lives? What always perplexed me was how often this question is perceived as a different one: How much should government be involved in running the various services that citizens use and need?
I used to work in an office full of nurses, and obviously the topic of healthcare came up in conversation a lot. And while they pretty much all believed that everyone should have healthcare, I often heard, “But I don’t know that I’d like the government to be in charge of it.” What government? The current one? One dominated by a different party? Any government? Ever? Why not? What automatically makes governmental control less desirable? Shouldn’t the main requirement be that it functions well?
See, I realized that people don’t think that all privatized management works well—for healthcare or anything else. Nor do they think that all non-profit organizations are inept, so the argument that “profit driving competition and motivation makes the service better” doesn’t even hold up. No, the problem is specifically with government being the body that manages healthcare, in spite of the fact that no one seems to think Medicare for the elderly is a terrible thing.
Some countries even offer free college tuition for citizens, but when we get past the whole idea that we “couldn’t possibly afford this,” again we see the argument that government should not be responsible for college education. There are many arguments about how government does not run such things as efficiently or cost-effectively as the private sector, but there is little to no discussion about reforming how things are run; there is only discussion of having such things change hands, as if that in itself fixes the problem. If we just handed off every failed private business to the government (or to someone else), citing the former owners’ failures as proof that those businesses should never be run by those people, just think how ridiculous that would sound. With this attitude, it is a wonder that we don’t instead say, “If at first you don’t succeed, then it was clearly never possible for you in the first place, and you should let someone else have a go at it.” But this is what people say of governmental control.
It seems to be less about how things are managed than it is about who does the managing. Those who are distrustful of government seem to want to privatize everything, and those who distrust the private sector want the government to take over or heavily regulate everything, and few seem to pay attention to how these distinctions tend to become increasingly meaningless the more that the same individuals rotate between business and government (the SEC being one of the key culprits). Isn’t the main issue here usually some form of greed? Isn’t the desire to be in control, yet remain unaccountable the main conflict of interest? Do we really believe this changes significantly whether we put the greed and control in business or in government? Put everything in the hands of business and we end up with monopolies and price gouging. Put it in the hands of government, and we get kickbacks, wasteful spending, inefficiency and sloth. And we act as if this is natural, and we must therefore balance these two somehow. But it is not some kind of natural or foregone conclusion; rather it is just what happens when an attitude of ownership divorced from accountability is placed on either side of that somewhat arbitrary boundary.
And boundaries are really what we should be talking about here.
Because there is endless rhetoric about rights. It seems like no matter which side of this nonsensical divide we find ourselves on, everyone is talking about rights, as if these are divorced from responsibilities. The healthy boundaries of an individual are formed by a solid sense of rights inflating the boundary walls from the inside enough to afford scope and individuality, but are balanced by another internal force of responsibility, policing that inflation to ensure that it doesn’t attempt to stretch one’s own boundaries towards infinity. To reiterate, both of these forces are internal. The boundary is not created by greedily attempting to inflate individual boundaries to infinity and being stopped at “just the right spot” by an external society or government that is also greedily attempting to inflate its own boundaries to infinity. Nor is the healthy boundary of government created by this endless inflation being stopped at “just the right spot” by individuals grabbing for all they can.
“Responsibilities” are not just another way to read “the rights that others try to hoard, that stop us from hoarding everything ourselves.” When love and care replace greed and self-importance, negotiations are less pressured because both sides negotiate for themselves and for their potential opponents. They determine where their own boundaries should end so they don’t ram up against those of everyone else. They don’t just wait until that jarring collision occurs to draw up the borders. It is as I say about the abuse of people who are very patient: Responsible people are grateful for the patient, because they know if they have a momentary lapse of judgment about where their own boundaries should be, and there is a rough collision or violation, the patient people will not launch a counterattack. Yet narcissists blithely keep pushing out until such collisions occur—just as they normally would with the less patient—and enjoy the extra space they were able to grab out of it. In one case, the boundaries function as a normally disused and unnecessary reminder and policing. In the other case, the boundaries are created or discovered through a process of forceful grasping for all one can take until stopped by equal and opposite force—a scenario in which an understanding of responsibility is not only unnecessary, but alien.
And when people only discover their limits by colliding hard with them, is it any wonder our prisons are so full?
Yet this is our legal system. Legislation has become about loopholes, semantics, and getting away with things (for further insight, I recommend The Death of Common Sense, by Philip K. Howard). It’s not only about violently colliding with the boundaries of others; it’s about pressing up against them so hard and for so long that we find all the cracks and breaches so we can violate them unseen. Whether it’s about infinite private rights that try to reduce all governmental influence to ineffective administrative duties, or about infinite public (governmental) rights that try to reduce all individual liberties to transparent and harmless parodies of democracy, be sure that it’s not about “private versus government,” but rather “greed versus everyone.” And if we are legitimate, responsible, generally unselfish people, perhaps we should stop merely trying to fix the problem by playing musical chairs with who manages the services in our society and actually address the greed involved in it on any and all sides.
Perhaps the problem perceived by people who want to divest government of all such things under its power that are possible to wrest free is that government, while currently infected with this greed and corruption, is too large to be allowed to consolidate it all in one place like that (though as I said, it’s not as if government is really separate from all alternative institutions). And in that case, of course it is natural not to want healthcare, news coverage, radio and television stations, banking or education to be completely (or even mostly) state-run. But it is too easy to forget (or never to realize) that these things are not inherently bad, because corruption is not inherently inevitable. When government is the automatic enemy, regardless of how well things may work, then it just appears that we are forever rebelling for no other reason than to establish individuality, like teenagers that never want to grow up and grow out of hating all authority just because it “defines us too much” or makes us “feel smothered.” At this time, perhaps there is no other way, but we must always keep in mind the current reasons. But consciousness development is already showing a growing movement towards Kohlberg’s “universal care” stage of development, and society will catch up in time. At that time, we will need to revisit what is or is not inherently corrupting. Why not start thinking about it now?
As a gamer and an author of fiction, I had the privilege to create a society at one point that was further developed than our own. It didn’t matter if media was state-run, didn’t matter if healthcare, manufacturing, services, basic goods, land titles, and many other oft-privatized industries were administrated by the government, because I drew up the society to be in line with Maslow’s “Self-actualized” stage, Kohlberg’s “Universal Care” stage, and Spiral Dynamics’ “Yellow/Integral” stage of awareness. I set it in a stage of psychological development where such things can be done without corruption having enough of an environment of dysfunction and ego-grasping (as one finds at all the preliminary stages, whatever most liberals like to think) to take root or survive for long. What was really interesting was the relative inability of my players to grasp this in any positive way. But imagine a world where you can trust the government to run the media, or where you can trust businesses to self-police and to view official policies as helpful and informative guidelines. Imagine a world where you can trust those around you to be responsible, and where you can be trusted with the same. Do you really care who is running it, or are you just glad that it’s there and that it works?