Feb 152012

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.

Chris Kirkham, Huffington Post

English: Daugavpils prison

Image via Wikipedia

Support the privateers and this is what you get. It starts with rigged banking, trade and tax policy that bleeds the average citizen and starves the government­. Once they’ve sucked enough wealth out of the general population and have government on life support, the privateers strike, offering their poisoned transfusio­n to save the dying body. These corporatio­ns and the people who support them are counter-pa­triots. They will sacrifice the wellbeing of our nation in order to line their pockets with the spoils of economic war.

Privateering is a parasitical process that’s grown increasingly prominent since the economic collapse of 2008. Seeking hosts that can be tapped and drained, predator companies prey upon weakened public entities with which they can strike their Faustian bargain. Roads, bridges, ports . . . even parking meters are on the auction block; private prisons just happen to be one of the most lucrative and fast growing targets of those who seek to exploit the commons for personal gain.

But just like the proverbial poison apple, while these deals may seem to offer immediate relief for public budgets depleted of revenue in a stagnant economy, what they deliver is lethal venom for the public good.

Chicago residents learned this lesson the hard way, when their city officials made a pact with Morgan Stanley to lease rights to the city’s 36,000 parking meters. The deal that gave a largely foreign group of investors (a huge slice going to Abu Dhabi) control for 75 years, went for just over $1 billion. Surely a nice infusion of cash, but considering that the devil’s deal gave the new Chicago Parking Meters LLC complete control, including the ability to charge the city for any loss of revenue, the long term prospects for the city were far less rosy.

Indeed, the people of Chicago soon found parking rates previously set at $0.25 per hour were hiked to $1.00 and more. They also found that they were unable to close streets or perform maintenance without compensating the privateers who billed the city at rates that valued the billion-dollar lease at $5 billion. Late last year, the city received a $13 million invoice from CPM for “lost revenue from drivers who used disabled parking placards to get free parking at the city’s meters.

The reality is that private company profits and the “general Welfare” for which our nation and public entities are constituted are often mutually exclusive goals. Numerous studies, looking at everything from schools and healthcare to security and military, have shown how cost-ineffective privatization can be. One recent study completed by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) concluded that “the government pays billions more annually in taxpayer dollars to hire contractors than it would to hire federal employees to perform comparable services.

Hard facts consistently belie the arguments used to support privatization, and nowhere are the myth and reality more contradictory than when it comes to private prisons. Not only was the U.S. Department of Justice forced to conclude that the cost savings promised by private prisons “have simply not materialized,” but risks regarding incarceration rates, recidivism, rehabilitation and safety are also often made worse.

The bottom line is that privatization most often benefits only the privateers. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to understand that misaligned interests tend to result in divergent outcomes. As a society, we should seek to establish a system that maximizes our human resources by putting people to work in the most productive manner possible. That goal is naturally at odds with those who seek to profit from increasingly incarceration — the least productive of human activities.

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