As linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky once outlined, defunding national institutions serves more purposes than simply reducing welfare state expenditure. The budget is, oftentimes, merely the pretense for the transition away from nationally afforded institutions and safety nets – all of which serve the people – and towards privately funded and interested parties that have explicit financial interests, and responsibilities to their shareholders. Whether in the United Kingdom, the United States, or elsewhere, the formula is as similar as it has ever been, precisely because the psychology is also the same.
“Privatisation technique: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”Noam Chomsky
Privatisation under the Conservatives
The Conservatives are eternally sniffing around in search of functions and institutions of the state to privatise. With the trains already largely in the hands of private entities since 1993, the two they seem most enthused with are the National Health Service and the BBC. Two more absolute stalwarts of public life in the UK, threatened by the continuous reduction of institutional budgets and charter reviews, alongside parliamentary, legislative game-playing; and it’s nothing new.
What’s the result of the defunding, neglect and mismanagement?
On the one hand, there has been an endless stream of criticism by Tories and their allies regarding the cost of running two institutions that might be better-functioning entities in the hands of profiteering conglomerates – like in the US.
On the other hand, as was detailed recently in the Tribune, the brave folks of the NHS must decide between working for the good of the society with substandard wages, safety, resources and budgets, or else striking – and even quitting – for those necessities at the detriment of the institution and society they care so deeply about.
Postal privatisation in the US
Conservative politicians here are not the only ones consistently reaching to misguidedly privatise national institutions. While American higher education and health care are well known to be largely privatised industries in the US, conservative politicians there would love the United States Postal Service to go a similar way.
Currently run by Louis DeJoy – and hamstrung over the last 20 years by bad legislation and management – the postal service functions slower today than it did at the start of this millennium. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 – passed during the presidency of George W Bush – makes the postal service an eternally unprofitable institution because it has to prefund retirement benefits for all of its employees, which no other American private or public institution is required to do in this way.
In turn, this has created the excuse that, because the service under government control runs such an incredible deficit, a private corporation or group of subcontracted corporations might better function for the American people than has the federal government.
This idea is, of course, laughable. America already has those corporations, and they have never made the USPS obsolete whatsoever. Those companies are incentivised to make money, and they prioritise that over services, in exact juxtaposition with what national institutions like the USPS must aim to do.
The NHS needs proper funding
The fate of the USPS awaits the NHS and the BBC too, should the hyper-capitalist Tories and their ideological allies have their way at least.
No institution – private or national – can, or ever will be perfect, and this surely includes the two institutions in question. While the dedication and determination of the professionals of the NHS are absolutely first class across the board, it is not possible for them to do their jobs – or for the system to properly work – without the proper funding, resources, and compensation for having worked so diligently.
The NHS and its staff must be funded with greater enthusiasm. More well-paying jobs must be created for those who wish to make a difference and dedicate themselves to helping others. These jobs, as well as the money earned and spent by those professionals, will benefit society materially as lives are saved and medical innovations made in the lives of everyday people.
The social and civil function of public services
Services like healthcare, letter and parcel delivery, education, and many others, are not ‘services’ in the sense of being endeavours designed to create capital gains or profits, but are services in the sense that they are base social and civil functions.
They are not supposed to make money per se; they are supposed to create a more vibrant, healthy, educated and developed state and world – good wages and consumptive power are nothing more than byproducts of this good social and national management.
The BBC – which is purposely publicly funded and answerable to parliament, but largely out of the government’s reach – has not been a perfect experiment by any stretch. It has not always been out of the reach of the government, and failures like that hurt its long-term credibility to be sure. Folks like the disgraced Jimmy Savile also haunt the network, the government and the UK to this day.
Yet, on the other hand, with the affinity that wealthy, media capitalists have for privatising national resources, for turning massive profits, and for supporting reactionary movements and characters, it has been witnessed – from Silvio Berlusconi and Italy to Donald Trump and Fox News and many others – what collusion private interests can have with national leaders and their administrations too.
Reactionary right-wing news vs the BBC
The ghastly, reactionary GB News is an extreme example of the mindset that threatens society. Yet there are others – as was written in The Guardian in October – and more are likely coming. Those who have heard or seen its programming should understand that what rules the roost currently – the BBC – remains far superior to any potential private successor or amalgamation of successors.
Meanwhile, much of the world – including the US – knows that it can largely trust the BBC for reliable information. It is not a perfect network, but it can be further developed, shaped, and evolved with better funding, and content aimed at and towards the interests and concerns of younger, more diverse, empathetic, and thoughtful generations – which it appears to be attempting to do.
The poor feeding the rich
In whatever form the reduction of national welfare programs comes, austerity is always taking from the poor to ensure that those wealthy few who sit comfortably upon their gold, silver, and petrodollars will not be inconvenienced too severely for living within a society made up of other, less fortunate souls than themselves.
When the costs of essential social and human services become bargaining chips and political cudgels whipped about without any human consideration for the consequences, one should consider society properly sick in a way that not even the best doctors and nurses of the NHS could remedy. The polity is too selfish to care for itself, to fund itself, and even to ultimately save itself.
With that type of greed and national self-loathing, only education and self-introspection – individually and collectively – can achieve any remedy. It is an illness of the society, but one that can also be individually and mutually cured. Health services, information, the post, our education, and so many other facets of our lives are not commodities to be subcontracted out, but are basic and neccesary functionalities of living in a proper society itself.
Social responsibility and social care
To care for one another – to ensure that others have access to the same quality of life that you and your family do – these are the positive and beautiful responsibilities of living and growing amongst one another within inter and intraconnected societies.
We should consider ourselves lucky to be able to do so, and must fight to keep life livable for the many in opposition to, as the famed Samuel Johnson once noted, the “…more vigilant and consistent…” few.