Raising Ugly Questions About Privatization

05/31/2013 02:48 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2013

I finally read Rachel Maddow's really interesting book called Drift, and in it she analyzes how easy it has become for America to go to war. And one of the primary elements of this -- and this overlaps with my own thinking -- is that by allowing corporations to perform what used to be considered public services, government leaders can enter conflicts without the encountering public resistance like the ones that marked conflicts in the last part of the twentieth century. Many government and even military jobs are now outsourced to private companies, and Maddow concludes that the need to sell the public on a war is diminished because many of the functions and services formerly performed by the U.S. military are subcontracted to corporations.

It reminds me of the discussions that Lyndon Johnson had when he became president and he went back to the Senate and he asked Richard Russell (a Democrat from Georgia and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee) whether the Senate would support him if he increased the commitment of American military power in Vietnam. And Russell said, Lyndon, you can do whatever you want but don't call up the National Guard. Everyone knew what he meant because the National Guard is a home-based arm of the military and the service members were very much involved in the life of communities around the country. When you call on them the issues of war hit home with people in those communities, raising their basest fears and they were resistant. It's a political firestorm that any politician wants to avoid. And with corporations willing to carry out military functions, they now can.

So Johnson and the Senate never called up the Guard. What they did do was to increase the draft -- but of course, the draft ultimately became politically unfeasible, too and the rest is history. But our politicians have learned their lessons, so what we have now is subcontracting to private corporations. So this is a very important step in cementing the corporate capture of our government. This is pushing Rachel Maddow's thesis unacceptably, but her scholarship opens up a number of questions that compel me to ask,

Is war now about profit-making opportunities for American corporations and do we therefore make decisions about going into war based on pressures applied by lobbyists and publicists for these large companies?

And on further reflection, was the power of the Soviet Union exaggerated during the many years of the Cold War to ensure the continued expenditure for military apparatus? It makes me wonder -- and these are very ugly questions.

It's an issue of having the power to control the public dialogue -- we've internalized the mantra that what is good for corporations is good for America. And this seemingly extends to the extent of having wars. Another simple-minded suggestion might be: we still don't have a complete national narrative on why we went to war in Iraq but if you stop and think about it as a sales opportunity it makes a bit of sense. From a corporate point of view, it's years and years of work and income: The first thing you do is go and destroy the country and that means you use up a lot of ordnance to do that. Then, you come with an offer to rebuild the country and you have cost-plus contracts to do it. Well, that's pretty good for business, good for the bottom line.

This is the ugliest instance of corporate capture and in some ways the ultimate point for corporate power. It's the ultimate point short of pure fascism where there is a merger of government and business. But you know, in the thirties the merger of government and business produced WWII and so we're on track and it's a bad track.

This is, as I said, pushing Rachel Maddow's ideas beyond what she suggests in her book. But it's a provocative book that raises many questions -- and hopefully starts many conversations.