We’ve talked together about privatization this week. Now we need to talk to Fred about whether it moves us toward “a more perfect Union.” (More)

Owning Our Seed Corn, Part III – A More Perfect Union (Non-Cynical Saturday)

The BPI faculty and guests debated privatization in Evening Focus on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we continued that topic all week at BPI. Thursday in Morning Feature we examined some reasons behind the push to privatize government services, and in HEMMED In JanF showed privatization reaching to public libraries. Friday in Morning Feature we discussed risks of privatizing core services such as military logistics, law enforcement, and public education, and in Evening Focus Roby NJ summarized the background and issues. Today explore how to talk about privatization with Fred, our archetypal median voter.

A Revolutionary Idea

Back in 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote down a revolutionary idea: “all men are created equal.” Today we usually hear those words without thinking much about them. If we do reflect on them, it’s often to note that Jefferson owned slaves. He did, and that’s not a trivial quibble. Still, Jefferson looked at his world – where most people believed kings ruled by divine right and wealthy nobles were a superior breed of human beings – and saw something extraordinary.

He saw those beliefs were wrong, and wrote “all men are created equal.”

That idea was so revolutionary that Jefferson himself couldn’t fully wrap his mind around it. He couldn’t see that idea also included women and non-whites. He probably didn’t even consider if it included LGBTs and people with disabilities. But he recognized there was no inherent difference between a king or a wealthy noble and an ordinary human being. There’s an old saying: “Fish don’t realize they swim in water.” Jefferson did, even if he couldn’t fully see the air and the land beyond.

An Idea to Build On

Jefferson’s idea didn’t create the revolution that gave birth to our nation. That revolution was already underway. He wrote those words to justify it: literally, to declare it just. A revolution that gave those words life would indeed be just. Ours didn’t. Not fully. Not at first.

Eleven years later, having succeeded in independence but failing in confederation, 55 Americans met in Philadelphia to design a government that could work. They did not all agree. They debated the issues for four long months. They never did agree on every detail. Only 39 of the 55 signed the final document. Probably none of those 39 was entirely happy with it. As Benjamin Franklin wrote:

There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution.

The drafters of the Constitution admitted its imperfections right up front:

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union….

Like Jefferson’s five words, those eleven are extraordinary. The first three declare who form our government, and the next eight introduce why we form it.

A Present Day Hero

And We the People do still form our government. When Fred discusses the news with his friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors, when he decides whether and what to say to an elected official in a letter or phone call or at a town meeting, when he decides whether to attend a rally on a local or national issue, when he decides whether and how to vote in the next election … Fred takes part in that ongoing struggle to form “a more perfect Union,” born of a revolution that was justified by the idea “all men are created equal.”

When Fred talks about whether to privatize our public schools or libraries, whether to sell public resources, whether to protect or dismantle labor unions, whether to cut or charge fees for public services, or whether to raise taxes and for whom and how much … those conversations are not simply about budget projections, deficits, and revenues.

Those conversations are part of our ongoing struggle to form “a more perfect Union,” justified by the revolutionary idea that “all men are created equal.”

If hiring private contractors to perform a specific service will help make us “a more perfect Union” where “all men are created equal,” we should support that and encourage Fred to support it.

But if hiring private contractors will create Government, Inc. – where profit margins come from fewer Freds earning enough to support their families, fewer Freds able to afford ‘public’ services, more Freds living in a toxic environment, and perhaps ultimately fewer Freds allowed to vote – that is not “a more perfect Union” where “all men are created equal.”

Government, Inc. is a world where corporate kings rule by divine right and wealthy investors are deemed a superior breed of human beings. That’s the world Thomas Jefferson was born into, the world he realized was wrong and against which he wrote that idea to justify our revolution: “all men are created equal.”

“We the People” includes ordinary working people. People like Fred … present day heroes in a story that began over 200 years ago … the struggle to form “a more perfect Union.”


Happy Saturday!