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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

Public, the Enemy No. 1

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For reasons difficult to understand (at least, rationally), Republicans have long seemed to dislike public employees. Generally, it's centered on workers making too much money, a concept Republicans don't mind in the private community. But if a public employee dares make above a sustenance wage, bring out the commentators and pitchforks. If a public employee makes $100,000, that is a sign of the Apocalypse.

(What most Republicans tend never to ask, mind you, is why that public employee is making $100,000. So, they never hear that usually a) the employee is a head supervisor with decades of expertise, b) cutbacks in government funding forced layoffs, which require this expert to work extra overtime, and c) someone with that much experience in private business generally earns significantly more. But why ask about reality, when howling at the moon is easier?)

Now, I understand there's a difference between a private worker earning $300,000 for a corporation, and a public employee getting $60,000 paid by taxpayers. The former is deservedly rewarded for helping make a profit. The other is serving the public good to make citizens' lives better. Personally, I think the latter is noble-minded and something selfless to be admired and appreciated. But hey, that's just me.

I understand, too, that the patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, said, "Government is the problem," which set that unshakeable philosophy in impervious stone. And so, we tend to hear from many Republicans the all-encompassing ridicule, "Would you like to see Big Government run...?" - followed by the name of some private industry, always meant to suggest that the government can't run anything properly, while private business is near-godlike.

Government red tape can indeed be one of Dante's seven levels of hell. But given that 60% of all new restaurants fail in their very first year, I wouldn't care to see the National Restaurant Association in charge of snow removal.

But let's be fair. For the sake of argument, let's accept the conservative Republican view that the government is terrible at running things, and if private business did the work, taxes would be lower. Okay? Great! So, then, let's ask the exact same question as before, just - reversed.

"Would you like to see private industry run...?" And now fill in the blank with some government agency.

Because we're just being fair. Right?

Would you like to see private business run the Armed Forces? Just make everything a private militia. It's already in the Constitution. Let the branches compete, and only the strongest would survive. That's Business 101. The military could even be outsourced overseas. If a private investor wanted to buy his own brigades, that's the business spirit that made America great. And the president wouldn't have to worry about spreading himself too thin as Commander-in-Chief, a job most haven't really been qualified for anyway.

Would you like to see private business run the nation's police departments? They certainly have experience already with Home Security companies. And if a private consortium wants to start up another police force, just imagine all the extra protection.

Would you like to see private business run the fire departments? Volunteer fire brigades worked swell in the 1850s, so they're time-tested. And remember last year when a Tennessee fire department let a house outside its district burn down because the owner had forgotten to pay his $75 fee? Just think of the money collected by private companies. It wouldn't be a piddling $75. Charge what the service demands - which is a lot.

Would you like to see private business run libraries? They are such a drain on government spending. If a businessman can't turn a profit lending free books, he'll just close the branch. There could be a huge business opportunity here - why even lend books? Sell them. You could close down all those brick-and-mortar libraries and do transactions online.

And would you like to see private business run the school system? We have great private schools right now, just make all schools private. If somebody can't afford a good school - or afford a school at all - it's like buying a new car. If you can't afford one, walk. Maybe education isn't for everyone anyway. Just smart, rich people.

And while we're at it, if you really hate how government operates, wouldn't you like to see private business run the Senate, House, judiciary, and President? We're always hearing about wealthy Republican CEOs spending their personal fortunes to become governor so they "can run this state like a business." Why not extend that to its logical conclusion? Just let private business run the entire country. You don't need a Chief Executive, just a Chief Executive Officer. The best people would clamor for the job - with so much privatized, there'd be little to run, and a guaranteed $150 million bonus, like on Wall Street. And since the public always says they hate politicians, you wouldn't need any. The CEO of United States Incorporated (a fully-owned subsidiary of Nabisco, a division of China, Ltd.) would simply appoint senior and junior executives to Congress. And hire ombudsmen instead of Federal judges.

Hey, just make everything in government private! Because if Republicans think government is so bad, it only makes sense to turn it all over to private business. Republicans have pretty much done that with their own party already. So, they've got a good handle on where to start.

Now, of course, this is just exaggeration. Obviously. Private business does much well, as does government. But accepting that is difficult for conservatives because it totally changes their issue. It's no longer, "Government is the problem," as the unmovable, blanket GOP starting point. Rather, it's now becomes a fair question of debate: what does government do well (and do well with its public employees)? And where does private business fail?

In the end, government is not the problem. Nor is private business. The problem is being close-minded.

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