Among a very large circle of people it is an unquestioned dogma that the government can’t do anything right. This is partnered with the belief that the private sector –i.e., profit making corporations- can accomplish more with less than the government can do. But such convictions rest more on ideological faith than indisputable fact. And that faith serves the interests of the wealthy elite to the disadvantage of everyone else.
Fighting gross inequality is nearly impossible apart from the aid of a government responsive to the concerns of the less powerful and less affluent majority. A government that just “gets out of the way” is a government that leaves the strong to ravage the weak. The marketing cry, “Get the government off our backs!” didn’t originate with people who labor for minimum wage in unsafe working environments. It came from those who had much to gain financially by insuring that laws are not enacted to interfere with their efforts to take advantage of people desperately in need of employment.
A government at its worst is a government that partners with the wealthy and powerful and is far less influenced by everyone else. Apart from this concern, any discussion of government size is a worthless distraction. Nowhere in scripture are leaders commended who defend the interests of rich and mighty. The governing leaders who are praised in scripture are ones who “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Psalm 72:4). There is no suggestion that similar special attention should be given to the interests of the strong or wealthy.
What is very much a biblical concern is that “the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice” (Micah 7:2-3). A government that deserves the support of people of faith is one that stands with the weak against the strong. Those responsible for governing who fail to do this are the very ones “who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right” (Isaiah 10:1). The rich who use government to their own advantage also promote distrust of government that serves the broader legitimate interests of the population.
It is to the advantage of the power and wealth elite to convince others that the government is wasteful, ineffective and untrustworthy. The mighty moneyed elite have pressed this message incessantly for decades. They have successfully mobilized their media and advertising power to shape the perceptions of many to the advantage of the few. And the push toward privatization has filled their pockets to overflowing.
Of course the shortfalls of government efforts are not hard to find. No big organization can avoid a degree of waste and inefficacy. In fact the same can be said of small organizations, as any attentive board member of a modest size religious congregation knows. But the problem is harder to avoid the larger and more complex the organization. So it should be no surprise that there is some inefficiency in the U.S. government. But is it uniquely so, as some claim? Is it really true that the profit-making corporations can “get the job done” more effectively and less expensively? Are they really more trustworthy?
The fact is that the hyper-critics of government cherry-pick market successes and spot-light government shortcomings to give a distorted picture of reality. The truth of the situation is much more complicated. Despite identifiable failures of some government efforts, the government has more effectively and less expensively performed in numerous significant ways than private corporations. But the wealthy elite seek to hide this fact because if it is acknowledged it will lead to less money in their pockets and less power in their hands.
Yet instances of the effectiveness of government endeavors over against private efforts aren’t hard to find. Dollar for dollar the average social returns on government research and development projects were well over 50% higher than private sector research and development, according to the extensive Council of Economic Advisors report. This includes such things as the internet, the Human Genome Project, the jet airplane and research than increased productivity in agriculture. Private efforts provide less for more.
Eliminating government jobs and turning the task over to private contractors has not had positive outcomes. A study by the Project on Government Oversight has shown contactors “charged the federal government more than twice the amount it pays federal workers” for the same services. Private contractors were used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting, as much 25% of money paid to contractors was wasted or misspent. Billions of dollars could have been saved by having the military provide these same services.
Turning intelligence work to contractors has proven to be neither more effective nor cost efficient. The result of reducing the number of government employees and allowing the work to be done by private contractors resulted in the government paying 1.6 times what otherwise would have been the cost. A report concluded, “Such outsourcing simply shifts taxpayer dollars to private hands, where it winds up in lavish executive pay packages and greater shareholder returns.” Again, the government could have done more with less.
Despite the widespread complaints about the ineffectiveness of public schools, in fact test scores are mostly improving and graduation rates are at a historic high. Yet those who reap financial benefits from privatizing education have exerted tremendous effort to push a narrative that hides the truth. In fact nationwide on average private charter schools have not done as well as public schools in educating and graduating students. No doubt there have been some local success stories for the charters. Still, nationwide studies repeatedly have found that private charter schools fall short, despite the hype of their anti-government advocates.
The list goes on. Private prisons are more costly, more dangerous and less effective than government facilities, studies find again and again and the profit motive has had detrimental effects. Private health insurance companies are significantly less cost efficient than the government operated Medicare program. The “run-away costs” of Medicare pale in comparison to those of private insurance. Private charities are rated as “satisfactory” by the American Institute of Philanthropy if they spend 60% of their donations on goods and services, allowing for the remaining 40% to be spent on fundraising and administration. Far more cost efficient is a government program like SNAP (food stamps) that spends nine-five cents of every tax dollar to purchase food and services for hungry families.
Again, all of this is not to say there is no inefficiency or waste in government efforts. Such things exist, most notably in the military. The Big Government that presents the greatest threat to liberty and deserves the greatest criticism is the Big Surveillance/Military Government, as I have said again and again. But the insistence that government programs –particularly those that aid the poor- are always excessively costly and ineffective in comparison to private efforts is a Big Lie that serves the interests of the wealthy elite.
They are the real beneficiaries of the widespread privatization efforts. They are the ones who most benefit by still lower taxes made possible by cutting programs that serve the needy and middle class. They are the ones who benefit from broad distrust of the government because only a government responsive to the needs of the majority can inhibit the wealthy elite from taking advantage of the weak.
Government watchdogs play an important role by calling attention to real abuse and waste. However, the ideological harpies that endlessly pick at government programs that protect the poor and that benefit the general population are not watchdogs but birds of prey in the service of wealthy elite. They shamelessly claim there is waste even in instances when virtually none exists. They do not “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute” (Proverbs 31:8). They speak on behalf of the moneyed powers who stand to gain when suspicion is spread about the programs that are the most helpful for the most people.