Thursday, June 25, 2009

Privatization versus Sub-Contracting

It happened in an internet forum that someone tried to use sub-contracting as an example of how privatization doesn’t work. However, sub-contracting doesn’t work as an example of privatization.

The State of California, in trying to manage a state park owned by the state government, hired AIG to manage the state park. AIG hired private firefighters to perform the firefighting service in the state part, at the behest of AIG, at the behest of the State of California. Those private firefighters apparently didn’t do a very good job, and so after being paid by the state (ultimately) to do a state job on state land it is considered a failure of privatization.

A real example of privatization would not have the state involved. These private fire fighters would be hired, not by California (via AIG) but by the private owner of the private land.

The two do not compare. No matter how many intermediary agencies there are between the top and the bottom, the top level agency, the one that initiates the sub-contracting, sets the rules for the entire chain downwards.

This is evident in the way companies that get most of their business from government contracting are run. Those companies have an internal structure and practice that is in many ways as bureaucratic as the government. They may be a little less bureaucratic since they do not have to follow the full range of regulations, but adherence to many government policies are written into contracts to ensure that sub-contracting doesn’t interfere with social planning objectives.

In the private sector sub-contracting also means that the goals of the top level company are the goals that determine all contracts down the line. The difference is that the goals in the private sector are all the same, best product for the lowest price. Government contracts aren’t written to make money for the government but to adhere to some policy driven standard, thus ensuring that there will be conflicting goals in government contracting.

When a contractor fails to deliver what should be the desired result, but stays entirely within the contract, it is not the fault of a private system. It is the fault of a public system that, in this case, happened to use a sub-contractor. The fault is still in the public sector.

Sub-contracting, contracting out to private companies government functions, is not an example of the free market at work. It's more correctly referred to as corporatism.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A bold move by the GOP?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has come out publicly in support of gay marriage. Meanwhile President Barack Obama and the rest of the leadership of the Democratic Party have come out in favor of Civil Unions instead. While Obama could single-handedly end "don't ask don't tell" and integrate the military, he refuses to do so.

Could Cheney’s announcement be a ploy to win over the homosexual constituency away from the Democratic Party?

The Democrats love to divide people into categories, because doing so make it appear they have a demographic advantage – given that every group except White Heterosexual Able-bodied Christian Males is considered a constituency of the Democratic Party. This is done to present a case that the Republican Party is dying for demographic reasons and had better embrace all of the Democratic Party’s race baiting policies (known for Orwellian reasons as "Civil Rights") or die as a party because, unlike the “robust” Democratic Party, the Republican Party represents just one demographic.

But in spite of the absurdity and inherent racism of politicking by demographics, there are those who believe it. And those will try to make policy around it.

About the only good thing that can be said about Neoconservatism is that since it originated in the Democratic Party those who follow that belief system have little interest in laws that mandate morality. Neoconservatism is a distinct political ideology from the Religious Right. True, the Neoconservatives want a police state, but they want to police loyalty, not morality. Thus they actually are in a unique position to advocate that the Republican Party change its position on homosexual issues.

How would they do this? It would not be an easy sell. The Religious Right caucus wants nothing to do with homosexuality. While selling them on gays in the military can be done more easily the harder sell would be gay marriage.

Gays in the military can easily be covered under the need for manpower. Endless war is a Neoconservative objective, and the belief that the United States has some divine mandate and the idolatrous way the Religious Right views the government can be tailored to advocate integrated service. Greater manpower is needed to fulfill the divine mission of the United States – or so would the Neoconservatives say when selling this to the Religious Right. The Neoconservatives won't believe it, they view the Religious Right as dupes, but that’s how they would sell it.

But Gay Marriage is the major hurdle. The entire debate would have to be reframed. The Neoconservatives would have to frame it as "monogamy versus promiscuity." Given that the Religious Right believes the only appropriate sexual behavior for homosexuals is either abstinence or conversion to heterosexuality, reframing the debate in this manner would be very difficult.

That doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. It could.

And given that, one state at a time, gay marriage is becoming the norm in this country. Civil Unions, once the progressive position, is now seen as the regressive position. It is also the official position of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has long taken many of its core constituencies for granted because "who else will they vote for, the Republicans?" If Cheney is indeed making that play for that voting block, the answer to that question would become "yes."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Republicans out of Power

Republicans are never more dangerous to the cause of liberty than when they are out of power. It is when they are out of power that they might actually attract the support of libertarians, even those who do not have a short attention span.

It is well known that Republicans have a habit of stealing libertarian rhetoric. It is also very well known that Republican follow through is abysmal on that for all the rhetoric they steal they never act on it. Everyone - Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian - knows that is true, although occasionally to score points in a debate Democrats will conveniently "forget" that there is no relationship between Republican word and Republican deed in order to try to paint a false association between Libertarians and Republicans.

When Republicans are in power, the divide between word and deed is apparent to all. There was no libertarian support for No Child Left Behind or Perscription Drug Coverage for Seniors. Libertarians never support deficit spending, following the principle that total spending is equivalent to total taxation. Given that principle, when a libertarian calls for tax cuts that libertarian is also calling for spending cuts by necessity. Direct taxes are evil, but still a lesser evil that the indirect taxes of deficit spending or inflation. When a Republican calls for tax cuts that Republican is calling for more of the burden of taxes to be shifted from direct taxation to indirect taxation.

When Republicans are in power, it is very difficult to paint any sort of assocation, whether by a Republican trying to attract libertarian votes or by a Democrat trying to show a flaw in libertarianism by laying at the feet of libertarianism the faults of Republicans.

But when Republicans are out of power not only is there a shortage of direct examples of how Republicans are nothing like libertarians, that is when Republicans increase their rhetoric theft. There was no rhetoric theft when Bush was trying to defend the use of torture, and there was nearly none when he was trying to justify the baseless invasion of two different countries. There was some effort to portray the invasion as a liberation, but all attempts to paint it as such rang rather hollow.

Such an increased level of rhetoric theft coupled with a decrease in manifest counter-examples leads to some undesirable results. Those who are new to the libertarian movement, or overly forgiving of past betrayals, may be swayed to support Republicans due to the rhetoric, a particularly dangerous temptation given that both are opposing Democrats at that time. Due to having a temporary common cause some might be willing to convince themselves that "this time" the Republicans are actually better. That sometimes leads people away from being libertarian as happened during the Bush administration and the War on Terror. The remaining libertarians, seeing some of their own pulled away have to work twice as hard at trying to win people over since they have to replace those leaving while trying to grow the movement. But even the attempt to persuade people to join is hampered because any attempt to persuade people to support libertarianism is met with opposition by some Democrats who feel more free to create the false association between libertarians and Republicans.

It is when Republicans are out of power that libertarians must most strongly resist thinking well of them, and contine to judge Republicans as harshly as they did when Republicans were in power, acknowledging only the small handful that actually are libertarian because their actions match their rhetoric.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Social Contract

Occasionally some social planner, either from the right or the left, will react to opposition to the proposed plan by reminding people that resisting is wrong. The planner will do this by invoking the Social Contract and asserting that by living in society the person opposing the plan agreed to whatever "society" decides to do to that person. The only option, says the planner, is to leave society.

That version of the Social Contract is full of misunderstandings and fallacies.

To start with there is the basic confusion between "society" and "government." Even in a democracy the two are not the same. In a pure democracy, the government is 51% of the public. In a democratic republic the government consists of elected officials and hired bureaucrats and officers. In neither case is it true that the entire public "is" the government.

Second, the Social Contract describes the relationship between the people and the society, not the relationship between the individual and the government. While those two perspectives overlap, the key focus is that the people created a government to protect certain rights. The government is the agent of and not a party to the social contract.

According to such a Social Contract theory it is possible for the government to be the party that violates the social contract. When that happens then according to Social Contract theory the people have every right to declare the contract null and void and overthrow the government that is violating the contract.

By making the argument that people are bound by the Social Contract, the social planner is undercutting his own case. Since the planner is invariably proposing some violation of the rights of the individual in order to implement the plan, the planner is therefore proposing that the people rise up in rebellion against the planner.

In essence, the Social contract belongs to libertarians and not to statists.

But most importantly, the Social Contract is a myth. There is no such actual contract, it is an analogy used by enlightenment philosophers to try to understand the nature of the relationship between the people and the government. While the myth describes pre-government people getting together and agreeing to set up a social system, no such meeting ever occurred.

The first governments were primitive tribal governments that are descended from the primate bands of pre-human ancestors. The pre-human bands were groups of related hominids with a few leaders and several followers. The alphas were those who had first pick of any food or mates. These formed the basis of the first tribal governments, without the intervention of any meeting to establish a social contract. The first tribal government evolved into more complex structures with kings and other sorts of rulers.

Based on that perspective it becomes obvious that kings and presidents are nothing more than self-important chimpanzees who want first pick of food and mates. That rather lowers the prestige of those offices.


See a very good analysis of the content of the social contract by Kent McManigal.