Loss of Public Goods

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Handing Over the Reins of Government
Public Goods Post 
For several decades, and out of sight of most Americans, advocates of privatization have been handing over the reins of government to corporations. These moves are almost invariably made on the basis of claims that government – the federal government in particular – is enormous and is constantly growing, and that contracting out costs less. All these claims are false. In reality, the federal civilian workforce has not grown in a half century. In reality, as a percentage of the total US workforce, the federal workforce has been declining since the 1950s. In reality, federal government spending on goods and services has not increased as a percentage of GDP. And in reality, contracting-out often costs much more than federal workers providing the same services directly. Read more…


Public Goods: What You Need to Know, and Why
Public Goods Post 
Things have changed. Since the November 2016 election we need a new vocabulary, more than ever. If we are going to preserve the myriad essential public services, benefits and protections that we all need, then we have to give them a name – so we can talk about them and act to keep them. Otherwise, how can we comprehend and preserve the multitude of essential products that come from what we call “government,” long maligned and now so threatened? A name for all those things we get and use daily, and the name we need in public discourse, is “public goods.” Read more…


The Public Economy in Crisis
Public Goods Post 
For decades, Americans have been told that government’s problems can be fixed if only government were run like a business. This is false. Historically, the imposition of a market model on public agencies and repeated moves to mimic the market have been a central cause of “broken” government.

This Post announces the publication of The Public Economy in Crisis: A Call for a New Public Economics, written by June Sekera, founder of the Public Goods Post. In the book, June proposes a new explanation of government as an essential, non-market economic system rooted in democratic choice. Read more…


Freedom to Harm
Public Goods Post 
This Post is about the erasure of regulations that is taking place outside of the media spotlight. It takes its title from a 2013 book by Thomas McGarity, who wrote about the consequences of eliminating regulations that protect people and the planet, thereby giving corporations the “freedom to harm.”

Underway today, if out of sight, is the “deconstruction of the administrative state” promised by the Trump White House. This deconstruction is aggressive and violent: it means the demolition of the capacity of our government to protect the safety and health of Americans, to repair and maintain our basic physical infrastructure, to protect the environment and to provide myriad essential public goods and services. Read more…


Unfriendly Skies?
Public Goods Post 
68,000 flights landed safely today in the U.S. That’s almost one per second. All landed safely because of a system of air traffic control maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its National Airspace System (NAS).

Like so many of its daily accomplishments, government successes such as this are rarely reported. Once again a public good — 49 million* safe takeoffs and landings each year — remains invisible. Read more…


Demolition by Design
Public Goods Post 
Public goods are produced by public agencies, which are being deliberately dismantled, demolished, or hollowed out. Under the guise of “public-private-partnerships” or other privatization policies, this weakening of government has been advanced for decades by both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Trump administration, however, is escalating the demolition, mostly behind the scenes. Its “deconstruction” of public agencies is pressing forward far more quickly and thoroughly than you may realize.

The Washington Monthly recently ran an important article about how we are all threatened by the current administration’s quiet strategies for demolishing public capacity while growing contracted-out government.

Trump’s Plan to Make Government Older, More Expensive, and More Dysfunctional

Washington Monthly
June/July/August 2017
 

by Gilad Edelman
 
Slashing federal employees doesn’t save money.
It just makes the government more dependent on private contractors
and more prone to colossal screw-ups.
 
Here are some choice excerpts:
 

The problem isn’t that contractors are bad. One glass of wine is good for you. But if contractors were wine, we’d be at two bottles a day.

When the government pays contractors, it’s not just paying their salaries; it’s paying their employers’ overhead and profit margins. A contractor who works for the financial services and consulting company Deloitte, say, and makes $50 an hour, might bill the government at $350 an hour, with Deloitte pocketing that $300 difference.

 

And more excerpts:

As you know, Donald Trump won remarkably few policy victories in the first six months of his presidency…One item on his agenda, however, is moving right along: cutting the size of the federal workforce. You don’t hear as much about this one, in part because Trump himself doesn’t talk much about it. But it’s clearly a priority—one the administration has billed as a way for Trump to make good on his promise to “drain the swamp.”

The Trump/GOP effort to shrink the civil service plays on a narrative the American people have been hearing for decades: the federal workforce is bloated.

The only problem with this narrative is that it is the exact opposite of the truth. As a share of the U.S. workforce, the federal civil service is actually smaller than at any time since before World War II. In absolute terms, it has been about the same size for half a century. While the number of federal employees has basically flatlined for a half century, the government has ballooned if you include another group in your tally: private contractors.

So when Trump and the Republicans say they’re going to shrink government by cutting federal workers, do a mental autocorrect. What they’re really saying is, we’re going to be shoveling a lot more money out the door to federal contractors.

This means that the federal government is about to get considerably costlier and more dysfunctional.

The problem isn’t that contractors are bad. One glass of wine is good for you. But if contractors were wine, we’d be at two bottles a day.

Paul Light estimates that there are between 600,000 and 800,000 service contractors; the government spends more on them than it does on the salaries of the entire civil service.

One consequence of this binge is cost.

A restaurant pays less for ingredients than a home cook, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheaper to dine out.

When the government pays contractors, it’s not just paying their salaries; it’s paying their employers’ overhead and profit margins. A contractor who works for the financial services and consulting company Deloitte, say, and makes $50 an hour, might bill the government at $350 an hour, with Deloitte pocketing that $300 difference.

A 2011 study by the Project on Government Oversight found that, benefits included, a contractor costs the government nearly twice as much on average as a federal employee.

Any serious effort to make the federal government work better needs to start by putting to rest the myth that the bureaucracy is too big.

If Democrats ever manage to regain power, they will be taking over a government that, after decades of starvation, is teetering on the verge of a catastrophic breakdown: overstretched, too dependent on contractors, lacking young talent, and facing a potential crisis of mass retirement.

A baby step toward weaning government off outsourcing would be bringing the data on the contracting workforce to light.

[F]uture…leaders will need to find a way to replenish the federal ranks. In an era in which voter behavior is characterized by deep mistrust of government, it’s malpractice to not have a robust platform of government reform.


Is Democracy Doomed?
Public Goods Post 
We’re hearing it from all sides: the United States — the oldest constitutional democracy — may not survive.  Our democratic system is at the breaking point, pundits say.

A recent article by Umair Haque makes the case that we are at “the end of the American experiment.”

Haque seems to be unique in pointing to Americans’ failure to appreciate public goods as the critical reason why we may be about to lose our democracy.  Haque insists that public goods, such as those making for a healthy, secure, and educated citizenry, enable a healthy, secure democracy.