Who Decides?

I’m a big fan of “connecting the dots.” Too often, We The People and the lawmakers we elect fail to recognize important connections; we treat issues in isolation, and often don’t understand why our “fixes” to those problems don’t work.

In all fairness, the connections are often obscure.

Recently, the Executive Director of  In the Public Interest pointed out a connection that I had totally missed, even though I study both privatization and democratic processes. He warned that privatization is part of the ongoing assault on democracy.

“It couldn’t be clearer that the fundamental democratic right to have our voices — and votes — heard is under attack. Just this week, Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated legislature slashed early voting…in the middle of the night…during a lame duck session. Bottom line: there are politicians, conservative think tanks, and corporate funders who don’t want people to be able to vote. But we’ve learned through our work that there’s another — and perhaps deeper — threat to democracy spreading nationwide, and that is privatization. When corporations take control of public goods like water, transit, and schools, we give them the ability to make decisions that should be made democratically by us, the public.”

I often tell my students that the Bill of Rights, properly understood, is America’s answer to a foundational governance question: who gets to decide? Who decides what political opinion you hold, what prayer you say (or whether you pray at all), what book you read, how many children you have, who you are permitted to publicly love?

The Bill of Rights answers those and other questions by affirming the individual’s right to make those decisions for him/herself, by guaranteeing that we each have a significant measure of personal autonomy (otherwise known as self-government). Liberty, to the Founders, meant limiting the power of government to dictate what the Supreme Court has called the “intimate” decisions of its citizens.

Democratic theory is less prescriptive than the Bill of Rights, but it rests on the assumption that citizens’ assent to important aspects of their governance is a necessary element. Politicians and political scientists can and do disagree on just what those decisions are, about what decisions must be made by the citizens in order for a system to be considered democratic, but there is unanimity on the principle that “the people” must have the final say on the issues that are properly before them.

When government contracts out, it is authorizing a private entity to make decisions relevant to the contracted function. In many cases, that’s not a problem. (Leaving the decision about how much asphalt should be put in a pothole is hardly an assault on democracy.) When government turns over control of public goods like water, transit, and especially schools, that’s a different matter, and much more troubling.

Most of the considerable criticism of privatization has revolved around management issues, cost accounting, and occasionally corruption and “pay to play.” I’ve raised constitutional concerns as well.

I think we need to add the effect on democracy to the list. Have we turned over to private enterprise an area of decision-making that ought rightfully be democratically decided? What are those areas? And what are the dangers of contracting them away?

The answers will vary, but we need to ask the questions.


  1. I might first add privatized correctional facilities. It is the government that took away a person’s freedom, presumably legally and constitutionally; should it not also be the government’s responsibility to care for these people who are now totally dependent upon the government for their every need?

  2. You’ll get lots of good answers today with healthcare hopefully near the top. However, when you start down this road, you are venturing into the essence of Neoliberalism where the markets are worshipped like gods.

    A book could be written about how the Hoosier Lottery was handed over to the Italian mob. It was done without vetting the process in the political or public sphere. Even the newspaper in Indy looked the other way.

    Was it a better deal for the public?

    Or, was it a better deal for the politicians?

    The politicians now have an entity that cannot (by law) donate directly to politicians, but they can give money to PACs like the Republican or Democratic Governors Association. LOL

    They thought they would remove the dots from the mob but they only muddied the waters a bit to keep our lame media happy.

    When Ball State’s board fired their previous president after a short stay, the public got a lesson in how democracy is just a term used to describe how the USA is better than other countries. While the public only covers around 36% of the overhead, our governor gets to appoint 100% of the board. Why aren’t the students who fund the school allowed representation on the board?

    The ultimate reason for Neoliberalism is POWER and PROFIT. It’s the antithesis of democracy.

    Play it through…if our healthcare institutions became accountable for our health or health advocates as they should be, what would happen to other industries who profit off us being sick?

    This would be a great exercise for a class. In Indiana, we would immediately have to consider the meat and energy industries. Sugar industry?

    Your question gets at the heart of why Neoliberalism is so popular with both political parties and why market advocates in the education field have enough evidence elsewhere to prove their positions don’t work.

    Most of the defenders will point out the corruption within the government as a reason to privatize but who is corrupting the government? 😉


  3. I would say that it is not the government that is giving over its responsibility to make decisions, but the voters who have first done that by re-electing those who go for the easy “it ain’t my fault” solution to running the show.
    Indiana is a pioneer in the privatization of government control. And it has worked so well for us in this backward, uncaring, Neanderthal state that voters keep coming back for more.
    What is it they say? “It is a sign of stupidity when you keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

  4. Let’s take this one step further. The use of the Internet out for an appointment actually hurts the construct of the health care benefit given as a safety net by the government. Companies abuse employees calling them independent contractors not giving them the prevailing wage plus the 30% that it should be owed for maintenance of vehicles etc. and insurance. You and I end up paying for people that work as independent contractors employed by Internet apps such as the Amazon flex driver and Uber driver. Legislation against these Internet apps need to be put in place in enforced immediately. You and I end up paying for the health care benefits of people being employed by these Internet apps.

    Privatization allows companies in the same way to abuse the government and take out the structure of the government services

  5. The private prisons are a huge mistake. The Republicans pass more a more laws to keep poor people IN those prisons . . so their donors can make lots of money from their prisons.
    That is sick on so many levels.
    Obama started to shut the “Prisons for fun and profit” scam off
    — and then the Orange disaster happened.

  6. Doesn’t today’s topic go hand-in-hand with “When You Don’t Ask The Right Questions”?

    “I often tell my students that the Bill of Rights, properly understood, is America’s answer to a foundational governance question: who gets to decide?”

    Who asked the questions and who was/is being asked the questions regarding where to end privatization and where to maintain government control (otherwise known as regulation)? Who decides which questions will be asked? We are currently entangled in an administration with no leadership; this all goes back to 2015 when the Republicans “decided” to drop 16 viable presidential nominees and opted for a real estate figurehead of questionable business success and obvious low moral character. Who decided? Did anyone bother to ask questions of anyone with knowledge or foresight as to the ultimate outcome of the election if Trump should happen to win?

    “When government turns over control of public goods like water, transit, and especially schools, that’s a different matter, and much more troubling.”

    Jane added privatized correctional institutions; I will add control of our military by a coward with bone spurs who has proven since January 20, 2017, that he does NOT know more than everyone else; especially our military leaders. He is not the “stable genius” he claims to be; Congress retaliated against the election – twice – of an African-American by deciding to force a White Nationalist pariah on the country and our allies. The Reconstruction after the first Civil War wasn’t successful; the level of Reconstruction needed at this time after only 2 years of Trump, is unfathomable. Did we decide anything on November 6th?

  7. Privatization and Corporatism go hand in hand and must deliver a profit to the stockholders. If you privatize highways or schools the stockholders will expect a profit and one method is to contain costs. Cost containment is not a bad feature in itself, but when you begin to use low grade concrete or asphalt on the highways to maintain a profit margin or not maintain the highways at all the tax payers will eventually have to pay to fix it properly.

    Health Care in the USA is driven by the for Profit system. ACA did work to a degree. However, the for profit system was at ACA’s heart. Premiums from ACA or Employer Health Plans must produce a profit. Thus, if the premiums paid cannot contain the costs then deductibles and co-pays will be high.

  8. Unfortunately we do decide. We decide every time we vote or don’t vote. When we elect not to vote we decide that we just don’t care who runs things or who does what to whom. This bloc of our public has more influence than the others.

    We need more civic engagement. We need to start making it easier to vote, rather than harder. We need to understand that it really is up to us.

  9. The distillation of virtually every comment, so far, underscores the basic connection between Republicanism and capitalism. The total merger of the corporatist with the Republican party is virtually complete. Even Todd understands this and made solid, salient explanations today.

    Democracy is ANATHEMA to free-market, unregulated capitalism. SLAVERY is the ultimate labor environment for free-market, unregulated capitalism. Democracy impedes profits’ full expression in free-market, unregulated capitalism. It’s that simple. Why else do stockholders get so jittery when some nincompoop like Trump or Mnuchin opens his pie hole and talks about economics?

    Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans – among others – is the epitome of this total marriage between profit and Republicanism. He has been owned and operated, much like most Republicans of note, e.g., Mitch McConnell, for decades. These corrupt fools have completely sold out our Constitution, the American people and everything else we hold dear in democracy for the sake of money and profit.


  10. we seriously need people who can connect with the less thought worthy. the ones who need to be explained why,you dont allow lawmakers(pacs,alec,think tanks) to stop the rights of one,or all…as im in discussion with people who are blue collar,didnt get past a genuine schooling, im not puzzled,its right there, they dont have a clue why…its all,shoot from the hip,without regard to anyone elses needs. this is your voting public,allowed to decide who gets what,and they dont care,or,know the reason why.. if the present mass media is only good for headlines,theres little context absorbed. i can focus on, fox and rush as nothing but spin,and corprate owned communism as thier entire line for a society to submit to cheap rhetoric,and the end of democracy as it still somehow stands. they still dont see the problem. schumer and pelosi have yet to raise a single word of this,or any,about the crap that has been ongoing since jan,2016. and were supose to trust them? we cant even get a party to agree on any item,other than whatever they,at any given moment,have choosen to spew at any issue. i dont see much good coming from the so called liberal party,except a diffrent form of spin,at a diffrent level. the town hall has been shut down, the politcians dont need to have us ask them questions and get real answers, they have high dollar money telling them what to say,and what they,only need to hear…they have
    decided against,a goverment by the people,and being against the people. only the big orgs,who only kick the rest to the curb, get to decide…hail,the yellow vests, we need a real stand,but theres little backbone in America anymore.. best wishes.

  11. The fundamental tenet of Athenian democracy is that the governors rule by consent of the governed, but unfortunately, “consent” is obtained by spin and propaganda these days with the result that substantial blocs of people vote against their own interests.

    We who recognize and ignore such tactics rightly complain about the loss of civic education, the freedom of corporations and corporatists like the Kochs and Mercers to exploit the language of Citizens United to even further legitimize their free speech rights to spin and propagandize, and sometimes end up arguing counter-tactics among ourselves, so what to do?

    Keep on keeping on, and most importantly, elect people to office who see through the spin and pretense to bring progressive ideas to government designed not to further enrichment of the already rich but rather legislate to see to it that the wealth and income from our economy are more evenly distributed to all. Socialism? Hardly, it’s called fair play. It’s not just the financiers who have a stake in this economy.

    Can’t be done? Hopeless endeavor? Pollyannish? Wrong. It has already been done via FDR’s New Deal when wages and the Dow rose in tandem and the middle class erupted from a Depression/WW II era, but that was before Citizens United, right to work laws, Reagan’s union-busting, Powell’s 1971 memo etc.

    So what further to do? Elect people who will reverse these neoliberal benchmarks and govern by the informed consent of the governed. There will always be spin and propaganda, of course, but when people enjoy the fruits of progressive legislation it will be much harder for the libertarian zillionaires to sell their medieval wares. The New Deal of FDR’s day will need substantial modification to account for interim history, of course, but it could serve as a framework to make for a new history in sharing income and wealth of the economy and the rebuilding of the middle class, an end to poverty etc., and I’ll vote for those who pledge to bring us that new history.

  12. ” When government contracts out, it is authorizing a private entity to make decisions relevant to the contracted function. In many cases, that’s not a problem.”

    As innocuous as “contracting out” sounds, it is inextricably bound to the central struggle of private property versus public good

    Even conventional Conservatism seeks to assert private property rights as the highest value, insulate those rights from the reach of government, and take back what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands and much more).

    In its most radical form (which we see in abundance today), this philosophy sees government as theft and redistribution of the wealth of the capitalist class. When theses efforts are thwarted it seeks to at least sow chaos and division within the political arena paralyzing government.

    My view is that without this contextual understanding, no analysis of politics makes much sense.

  13. And what about privatizing the legal system via arbitration clauses? Greatest threat of all, denial of access to the court system at all. You’d be surprised how many things we are involved in (cell phone contracts, etc) require arbitration for disputes. You can’t even rent space at the Indianapolis Museun of Art without agreeing to binding arbitration. It’s everywhere…and SCOTUS aporoves. Boggles the mind.

  14. And of course in both instances the public is commanded to pay for the externalities. After Carl Icahn finished chopping as many regulations as he could find, that debate is a waste of time. But it reveals how the private approach can demonstrate its ability to save money, since it pays only a fraction of the costs. By avoiding externalities, the Koch brothers have accumulated great fortunes, mostly bestowed on them by the government they control. As in the financial crisis of 2008, private citizens paid the bills while private companies reaped the profits. Twas ever thus. That’s the nature of the brand of capitalism we live under.

    The Koch brothers need to work on the form of government they will choose after they’ve killed off democracy.

    Neoliberalism is neither “neo” nor liberal.

  15. Make more money now regardless of the impact on others ever is not much of a mission statement yet it is the one, regardless of the what the marketing people publish, that motivates all corporate decisions. To me expecting that to lead to a functional institution EXCEPT under conditions of 1) substantial regulation protecting all of the public, workers, consumers, shareholders, the environment and limited natural resources as well as 2) systems to distribute back to the workers who produce all of the wealth that corporations create and 3) significant real competition in the marketplace is unrealistic. That doesn’t mean that capitalism doesn’t have a role to play in every mixed economy it means that it’s not a solution in every market. There is a reason why every country in the world today has a mixed economy after decades of experimentation on what alternative might be better.

    Electing people to government who don’t understand and accept that and who have demonstrated the willingness to manage business accordingly is a recipe for failure. It’s also a recipe that those who benefit from not recognizing this reality base their powerful decisions on where to invest their substantial wealth avoiding.

  16. I have often felt that we live in a corporate oligarchy/plutocracy. Yes, we the people, have lost power because of the privatization of government services.

    I wonder how much of this has been influenced by Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy( or some distortion of it) and her assertion that selfishness is the highest virtue. I would love to hear your take, Sheila, on how much Ayn Rand’s assertions have affected Republican policies towards privatization of schools, water supply etc.

  17. Privatization is the son of Capitalism, but …
    CAPITALIST IS A EUPHEMISM FOR SOCIOPATH; social scientists and psychologists describe the depraved sociopath using the exact same words that economists and Ayn Rand use to coach and advise and motivate the aspiring Capitalist entrepreneur.


    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist is glib and uses superficial charm to sell his selfishness as being important to your life and your business’s life. Pratik Dholakiya in “5 Habits of Relentless Entrepreneurs” coaches the capitalist practitioner “to learn to hustle, even if hustle does not come naturally”.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist is manipulative and cunning in order to get you to do that which benefits him or his business. Capitalist gurus on university staffs and through How-To Books for almost one hundred years have taught that “…there are no true friends in a capitalist economy or in a free society. Excellent capitalists are all sharks.” The true capitalist is never at peace with the public.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist never recognizes the rights of others and sees his self-serving behavior as not only permissible but preferable, even virtuous, in terms of getting results that benefit them or their business. In “The Culture of Terrorism”, Noam Chomsky warns America about the danger of a sociopathic society that accepts and worships self-serving behavior under the presumed constitution of Capitalism.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist appears to be charming, yet is covertly hostile and domineering, seeing other people as merely an instrument to be used. They feel they have permission to dominate and humiliate other people in order to gain advantage for themselves or their business.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist has a grandiose sense of self and feels entitled to a killing field that favors his needs and his business.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist has no problem lying through the teeth, coolly and easily, and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a functional basis, because the truth often stands in the path of getting their way and/or making their business richer.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own, or their company’s powers and abilities, because they are captured by the first belief of importance to them–the belief that they or their business is the most important thing in the world. “Entrepreneur.com” insists that the businessperson “become a shameless self-promoter”.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist has a Lack of remorse, shame or guilt, because since he is at the top of the needs ladder, all things are virtuous that help move up that ladder all those solutions for his or his company’s needs. In fact, there at his throne at the top of the needs ladder, only the degree to which something serves the capitalist or the sociopath will define the functional measure of value and virtue.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities to benefit him or his business.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist believes the end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in the way of their self-interest and the bottom line of their business.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist has a refined ability to fake warmth, joy, love and compassion, because those emotions serve as ruthless tools to get what he wants or what his business needs.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist gets outraged by insignificant matters, yet remains unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person, because his twisted sense of proportion always distorts value systems in order to justify his god-like all-important self-interest.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist is unable to empathize with the pain of other people, because to do so would impair his ability to serve his own or his business’s needs. Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, preaches, “There is no growth in comfort.”

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist believes he is all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, is limited by no sense of personal boundaries, and has no concern for their impact on others, because such qualms would limit the “good” they can do themselves and their business. Steli Efti, Co-Founder/CEO Elastic Inc. advises the businessman to be relentless in the face of refusal.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist is not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams and are oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause, because such sensitivities inhibit the brutal drive to get what they or their business wants.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist does not accept blame themselves, but blame others, even for acts the sociopath/capitalist obviously committed, because such insight blinds them to the shortcuts that they need to use to serve their desires and their business interests.

    • The sociopath as well as the capitalist prefers a parasitic lifestyle to a realistic life plan, because realism stands in the way of the easy road to success for him or his business.

    In general, merely systematizing and structuring sociopathic behavior and worshiping it as an all-powerful God named Capitalism or Privatization gives it no honor, nobility, virtue or effective use in a just society.

  18. Just a note form the Guardian:

    A top Amazon executive privately advised the Trump administration on the launch of a new internet portal that is expected to generate billions of dollars for the technology company and give it a dominant role in how the US government buys everything from paper clips to office chairs.

    The 2017 correspondence between Rung – a former official in the Obama administration credited with transforming the federal government’s procurement policies before she joined Amazon – and Mary Davie at the GSA, offers new insights into how Amazon has used key former government officials it now employs – directly and as consultants – to gain influence and potentially shape lucrative government contracts.


  19. Then, there’s the lack of journalism in this city. All the local media–print, television, etc., are part of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, which thinks it runs this pathetic burg, and they all help each other out, which is why the only bad guys that get reported on are those who rob, assault, and murder, but not those whose hands are in our pockets, those who pollute, those who get tax dollars, tax breaks, grants and incentives, but who only line their own pockets. No matter that the privateer-run schools do worse on the ISTEP. How about sex scandals involving certain politicians, including those listed on Ashley Madison? Will be played down or not reported at all.

    Ever notice how Channel 13 constantly harps on the “Circle of Lights”, like it’s something not to be missed, including holding a local talent contest prior to throwing the switch? They used to call this the “world’s biggest Christmas tree”, but it is not a tree. The whole purpose of that monstrosity is to promote Downtown merchants. When they initially set up this mess, they didn’t take into consideration that the bolts holding down the light strands might damage the foundation of the building, which it did. No matter. Taxpayers will foot the bill to fix it. Did anyone ever stop to think about the reason why this monument was built in the first place, and how the significance has been trivialized just to try to draw customers for Downtown businesses? I cringe when I hear the singing and dancing performances in front of this monument to the bravery of those patriots who fought and died to maintain the unity of this country, but you won’t hear any criticism of using this monument to sell holiday merchandise on local television. How about all of the free publicity for all of the professional sports teams, complete with team logos on the weather forecast board, or all of the “reporting” from Newfields, Carmel’s fake Christmas market, just for free publicity to promote these venues, as well as various music performances? Why hasn’t some real journalist required local and state government to disclose incentives offered and accepted, for instance, to try to attract Amazon? Isn’t our money? Don’t we have right to know? Why won’t local government consider the wishes of the people regarding I70/465, or the junk electric buses rejected by Albuquerque that IndyGo insists it is going to purchase despite undependability and safety flaws? Why aren’t these headline stories?

    Why doesn’t some real journalist at least question the value of the privatization of public schools, or Citizens Energy, or the misuse of monuments erected to honor the valor of the fallen for commercial purposes? Why are dues-charging “neighborhood associations” with ties to developers given a voice to speak as “representatives” before the Metropolitan Development Commission? To answer these questions, you need to look at the representatives on the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. Would any City-County Council candidate who opposed this “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” arrangement even have a chance?

  20. ALEC and their parental Koch brothers and other corporate backers don’t believe in democracy in their workplaces nor in our political system. So much of the ALEC model legislation attacks democracy in its various forms. The ALEC model despises collective bargaining to elevate the authoritarianism of corporatists large and small. The ALEC model on voter suppression is targeted toward those who vote for those who would upset that corporatist agenda with legislation for worker rights and safety, environmental safeguards to protect clean air and water and public health, taxes sufficient to protect public services which are only supported by ALEC when private profits can be made from them at public expense.

    Indiana is a model for the ALEC model. For years, Republican State Rep. Bob Behning has promoted legislation to label more schools as failing schools – even if they weren’t – thereby enabling state takeover and assignment to private managers (including charter and voucher schools) who could eliminate teacher collective bargaining, hire teachers with only 5 weeks of training who never have to pass the rigorous written and practicum tests for teacher licensure, and even permit private managers to sell off school assets without consent of the publicly elected school board (Flint Michigan anyone?). When selling off assets didn’t pass, the corporatists just used their immense financial wealth to elect school board candidates who would contract out the schools for which they didn’t want to be held accountable and hire private management whenever they wanted. Noticeably, private management of public, charter, and voucher schools has more often than not produced worse results, even though private management often discriminates against the students who lower test scores. Private management and cmopetition were sold as the keys to success. They are not magic wands, usually leaving students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers worse off.

    To promote and protect this anti-democracy agenda, the corporatists impose their advantage on politicians and the courts to protect campaign finance laws that permit non-transparency and non-accountability for immense contributions to candidates, parties, independent campaigns, and inaugurations.

    Privatizing the toll road was an exercise in getting money in exchange for hiding many of the details from the public whose dollars built and maintained that highway for generations. Every public-private partnership hides many details from the public because that would be “anti-competitive”. It’s also anti-democracy in action.

Comments are closed.