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Written by Jim Jordal   
Saturday, 01 December 2007

A NEW CHAPTER IN PLUNDERING THE POOR

By Jim Jordal

My hand has found, like a nest, the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing, or opened its mouth, or chirped.

The king of Assyria boasts of plundering his conquests, including Israel; Isaiah 10:14 (NRSV)

Time magazine for Oct, 29, 2007 reports a pending move in nine states to privatize (sell) existing parts of our highway, bridge and tunnel infrastructure, or the right to build new installations, to private equity and venture capital funds for a total price of over $100 billion. The stated motivation is that state and local governments can no longer afford to keep highways and bridges in decent repair, or to add new facilities to accommodate millions of new cars over the next decade.

Selling either the existing facilities or the rights to build new units transfers the burden from government to the private sector, which can seemingly well afford the cost. Investors salivate over double-digit, stable returns from generations of toll charges. And the public gets needed roads and bridges. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the cost will be borne essentially by Americans unable to afford any alternatives to sky-high tolls. This will likely be the bottom half of our population. For these people work is a necessity for which they must bear any transportation expense, no matter how high. Couple additional tolls with much higher gasoline prices and the unavailability of jobs where common people live, and we have a recipe for increased poverty and suffering.

And where will the multiple billions come from to buy the infrastructure? Of course from the grossly inflated profits of those few Americans rich enough to subscribe to private equity and venture capital funds, and from massive borrowing. And who services the debt? We the people do in the form of paying tolls to service the 99-year leases used to buy the facilities. So we pay often exorbitant fees to use what ought to belong to us, not private enterprise.

Unfortunately, privatization has already gobbled up most of our natural resources, to the huge enrichment of the wealthy owners and the detriment of the people. The returns on what should belong to all of us (the Jubilee concept) go instead to powerful private owners who use their wealth generally to gain even more wealth.

So what's next? Privatized water and sanitation systems? Privatized military? (It already exists in the private contractors of Iraq, who bid, often without competition, for hundreds of millions in government contracts, and who pay their "soldiers" up to $33,000 per month while real soldiers receive about one-fifteenth as much).

How about privatized fire and emergency services, like those already existing in California. For a hefty fee, homes in forest fire-prone areas can receive special protection from private fire fighters. So the homes of the rich are saved while those of lesser people perish.

Don’t get me wrong! Privatizing is basically a good idea. It’s one of our deepest values and the essence of the American economic system. But privatization is good only if the persons or institutions owning the assets are service-oriented, honest and fair. If they perceive their favored position as licenses to steal from the public—the case in many foreign countries—then the concept is fraught with danger, both financially and politically.

The sorry account of privatization in developing countries abounds with horror stories of greedy corporations bribing local leaders to sell off natural resources which should be used for the people’s welfare. Another ploy is to transfer water supplies, natural gas, local transportation, and the supply of basic home commodities like cooking oil and kerosene to private ownership. Now the poor must pay many times more for basic services, with little or no opportunity to earn more income.

So the concept of privatizing, which began as a way of limiting the excesses of big government, now becomes a force against the people as it falls under control of the rich and powerful. Folks, that's not economic justice.

Could it happen here? It already has in many respects, as I’ve listed above. But God knows what’s happening, even if we don’t. As did the king of Assyria (above), greedy entrepreneurs and money powers arrogantly believe they’ve got their hand in the public’s pocket for a long time to come. They seem to believe that no one will protest, and truthfully, few have. But they know not the thoughts of the Lord. It’s Jubilee deliverance that’s coming, not financial slavery. That’s the hope we have, and it’s enough.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 01 December 2007 )