The stakes are higher than ever
Publicly-provided services, already weakened by decades of neoliberal policies, are even more threatened in moments of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when public revenue is down and demands on government are climbing, profiteers and privatizers have an opening to step in with false solutions to our urgent problems.
We saw “disaster capitalism” at work after Hurricane Katrina, when right-wingers including now-U.S. Vice President Mike Pence used the crisis to promote “Pro-Free Market Ideas,” including rolling back labor protections and giving parents vouchers to use at charter schools. Prior to Katrina, the Governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco had already wanted to take over and privatize the school system. Privatization proponents used the hurricane to push through their agenda, and within 19 months New Orleans’s public school system had been replaced by privately-run charter schools funded with public money.
Today, in the time of the pandemic, privatization threatens education, the Postal Service, and other public services nationwide.
- Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and Republican members of Congress have threatened to take away funding to public schools that cannot reopen because of COVID-19 fears, and let federal aid go to private and religious schools or “microgrants” to pay for private education, while public schools are struggling.
- Trump, who proposed privatizing the US Postal Service in 2018 and blocked CARES Act aid to the Service, now has a Postmaster General who has been called a “millionaire political fundraiser bristling with conflicts of interest.” The head of the American Postal Workers Union pointed out that “undermining and degrading the Postal Service helps frustrate the customer, which sets the stage to privatizing it,” which would have serious impacts not only on mail delivery but also on the future of US democracy.
- COVID-19 has decreased the number of park visitors and the revenue they generate, re-igniting discussions of Trump administration-backed National Park privatization broadly opposed by environmentalists.
- State and local governments are facing massive budget shortfalls. Although they could be addressed by new progressive taxes and federal aid, they have prompted short-sighted privatization proposals ranging from New Jersey parks to a Wichita performance venue to New Bedford’s zoo. We expect to see dangerous privatization proposals for a range of other public services as the pandemic continues.