The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 April 2004

All you need is cash

I've kept my distance from the current Kos célèbre, generally, but I must point out that there really isn't anything particulary surprising about The Remark: according to various leftist pronouncements, doing anything for money is somehow a little bit unseemly, too capitalist to sit well with people who spent all their intellectual capital on Marxist ideology. Halliburton is reviled, partially because it's an American corporation its ties to Vice President Cheney are purely incidental but mostly because it's making money in a war zone.

This notion extends well beyond Iraq, and it's one reason the left is constantly calling for the government to undertake tasks that could just as well be done by the private sector: privatized operations are more interested in the bottom line than in the Good of All Mankind, and the government would never be so tacky as to turn an actual profit. Whether the private firm can do a better job at less expense is irrelevant.

Thus the complaint about "mercenaries." Whether those poor folks met the definition of the word or not, they were working for a private firm, and therefore their deaths should be considered even more meaningless than those of our "real" troops.

Don't get them started on health care. Please.

Posted at 9:51 AM to Political Science Fiction

What utterly dismissive tripe...

The problem that "people like me" see with the entire notion of privatizing war is the financial incentive now embedded in war/peace decisions.

The private firms are not doing a better job at less expense. In many cases they are utilizing the expertice created by military training, then they sell that experience BACK to us for 100x what we originally paid for it. They also create a way for politicians to avoid lengthy and politically risky military call ups by shifting the burden to private firms that charge more but provide political cover. Money it seems, in times of war is easy to come by. The real danger lies in creating discomfort in the voting public.

I could, and probably will write a lengthy post about the mythos that privatizing something makes it more efficient. In a case like Iraq there seems to be NO accounatbility for the money being spent. There is no such thing as a free lunch, we only shift the burden to where it feels less painful. That usually means screwing the individual for the comfort of the many. In teh end it comes back to haunt us.

Tkae grover Norquists favorite example, the White House landscapers. He says that we could save money by getting rid of them at public expense and re-hiring them back at lower pay as a private contractor. We see how well that worked for airport security. We get people working for crappy pay that don't care about their work, get no benefits and see reduced purchasing power. We have successfully shifted the burden away from taxpayers/shareholders and moved it where?

Well, back to us, but in less obvious ways, in the form of higher insurance premiums, cuts in benefits, higher fees and less access to services.

We should talk about health care because its a perfect example of teh wasteful way that private industry solcves problems. Nobody wants to shoulder the burden so they go to the payer of last resort and many times that is the federal government, who at the behest of heavily lobbied politicians fits the bill.

The modeus operandi of corporate america is shifting costs. The company I work for has been boasting about record stock prices and high profits while reducing staff and cutting at benefits. Do you not see a direct correlation?

These tax cuts? Its fantasy money, we'll pay for them some way or the other, in little nibbles at our quality of life and costs of services. It will feel like we're saving money when we get that rebate check but then we'll being paying for that park that used to be free, or pay a little extra here and there. States are already looking for ways to increase property taxes. And poof, there goes that tax cut.

As for Marx, I hope you distinguish between his analysis of capitalism and his proposed solutions. These days even the wall street guys know that Marx was right on with his analysis, and even us radical lefties know that he was off in his proposed solutions.

I dont mind the US paying private people to serve food or whatnot, provided there is accountability. But when they start paying exhobitant prices for soldiers that we trained I find that sheer stupidity.

Of course, you make the mistake of assuming that privitizing is done to reduce costs. Not so, its about re-distribution of government wealth away from direct payment for service to third party payment for services. Which is going to be efficient, paying for something directly or paying a middle man to provide that service for you?

You get what you pay for. There's a reason that is such a cliche.

Do better CG, its one thing to be an equal opportunity curmudgen, its another to fall prey to false premises.

Posted by: bruce at 3:31 AM on 6 April 2004

They also create a way for politicians to avoid lengthy and politically risky military call ups by shifting the burden to private firms that charge more but provide political cover.

Considering how many of the military units stationed here in Georgia were mobilized, forst for Afghanistan and then for Iraq, I fail to see how "politically risky military callups" are being avoided. A few hundred civilian contractors under arms in Iraq haven't kept the Pentagon from having to keep thousands upon thousands of uniformed troops in country. Bruce, you're being ridiculous.

The trouble with these call ups, as seen by the Left, is that they're not being fed by a draft, which would create real political risk for the administration calling up the troops. An all-volunteer force (which I notice a lot of Leftist voices are saying should be replaced by -- you guessed it -- a conscript army) doesn't provoke the kind of fear on college campuses that the Vietnam-era draft did.

Posted by: McGehee at 4:42 PM on 6 April 2004

Are you implying that calling up thousands of troops is as politically risky as calling up thousands more?

Its always risky to put troops in combat for long periods, especially when they are in serious danger, but that risk goes up the more you send.

Who's being silly?

Posted by: bruce at 12:56 AM on 7 April 2004

You are -- by saying that a few hundred civilian contractors are having that kind of impact.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:53 AM on 7 April 2004

"P.W. Singer of the Brookings Institution in Washington has studied the growth of private contractors in war zones. Based on civilian contractors' presence in the Balkans and more recently in Central Asia, Singer estimated that several hundred companies will send about 20,000 contractors to a war with Iraq, about one civilian for every 10 military personnel."

Posted by: bruce at 4:54 PM on 7 April 2004