By Bill Logal

    The drive to downsize government and enhance the private sector gained prominence under Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister in 1979, and was quickly embraced by President Ronald Reagan. The Great Communicator preached the evils of big government and the electorate gobbled it up as if it were dishes of vanilla ice cream.  

    He played to the fears and ignorance of a great majority of Americans who bought his vision of smaller government, less taxes and rugged individualism along with the thinly veiled pictures of welfare queens cashing their checks while driving Cadillac’s. His visions of smaller government were as flawed as his mind in the latter stages of his dementia.

In our age of downsizing, outsourcing and privatization and globalization by the corporate elite we find ourselves with wage stagnation, government coffers being emptied at an alarming rate and an economic situation that promotes the greatest disparity in wealth that the world has ever witnessed. We in Erie County live with two control boards that now handle the purse strings of both the city and county governments. No matter whom you wish to blame for this debacle the fact is that there are many other factors than corruption and inefficiency in government when we search around for the culprits in the blame game.

    To privatize many of the functions of government the easy targets in Britain were the state owned industries such as Amersham which sold radioactive materials supplied by nuclear reactors. The next to go on the block were the oil and gas industries, aviation and then Rolls Royce and Jaguar. The next target became labor and Mrs. Thatcher and her conservative government took the axe in hand and chopped away at labor unionization. Her success was both overwhelming and swift and in 8 short years from 1979 to 1988 Thatcher had accomplished all she had set out to undo, and as Madsen Pirie, the president of the Adam Smith Institute, stated in 1988 “The progress made by one government in taking down the size of the state sector will not be easily reversed by its successor.”

          In the United States, President Ronald Reagan, went to war with the unions and his first success was firing all of the air traffic controllers and replacing them when they went out on strike. Regulatory Commissions next came under fire and the first victim was the National Labor Relations Board which today is as fearsome as the toothless and clawless lion.  His success at dismantling labor unions is acknowledged today by the lowest percentage of union members since the 1930’s. Each successive presidency and congress has allowed the drive to privatization to continue unabated in the United States and most other western  countries. The private sector now has more access to the public treasuries than the citizens that pay the bills.

    The push now in force in the United States is to privatize the military, the police and fire and to rid the country of unionized teachers. Examples abound of the great success to privatize the military as groups like Bechtel, Haliburton, KBR, Blackwater, and CHM2 Hill mine billions if not trillions from the Iraq war and the environmental catastrophes that are happening as the debate over global warming    marches on toward a specter of cataclysmic proportions. Katrina provided many of these same companies the opportunity to again fill their pockets from the public coffers and those that had the money were able to afford their services. Community after community embraces the idea of charter schools where we balkanize our states and cities to wealthy enclaves and the poor to urbanized ghettoes. The suburbs of Atlanta are seceding from their counties and forming their own gated cities which will be privately administered and paid for by those that can afford to live there.

The past fifteen years has been marked by the irrational exuberance of the soothsayers like Alan Greenspan and the other apostles of Ayn Rand. We have lived through the collapse of the dot.com bubble, the implosion of Enron and now the credit squeeze courtesy of the sub-prime mortgage fraud steadily edging us into a recession that will greatly impact all of us in the United States and most likely the entire world. Although union membership in public sector unions has remained fairly steady over the past twenty years wages have remained stagnant.   

The great benefit of government employment is noted specifically for job security, health and pension benefits and the ability to advance through promotional exams and obscured political patronage. Paychecks were steadily supplied every two weeks and at the end of our working careers we could relax as we basked in the sun at the end of the rainbow knowing that the pension check would arrive as timely as the SSI money. Worries over health care were diminished by the knowledge of medical benefits extended till death. Not a bad life, but then our friends and neighbors noticed how well we were living as steel plants closed and car manufacturing went overseas along with myriad other industries. The public sector soon overshadowed those in private sector employment. Were they jealous, of course they were, and especially when they paid their taxes.   

In the future I believe that we will see diminished support for public sector unions and what influence they do possess will be subject to the whims of the market and more control boards to enhance the interests of the elites in each and every community as the private sector takes more and more control of government at all levels. It will be an interesting period as we enter more deeply into this millennium and our economic system flounders along on a completely different set of rules rather than the status quo our fathers and ourselves came to expect. So remember the first rule of living, “To those whom much has been given, much will be expected,” and do realize that one should always be nice to the people on the way up cause you sure as hell will meet them on the way down.