June 21, 2006

DEFLATING THE PUBLIC SPHERE


Caption: Venus opposes privatization, partly because she wants to eat the National Arboretum.

Several years ago, a friend was part of a group that got arrested for leafleting in a mall about sweatshops. This was deliberate. The goal was to establish a precedent that shopping malls had become the modern equivalent of the public square.

The case went to court. It was a simple case of the Bill of Rights versus Private Property and—you guessed it—the Bill of Rights got creamed.

This happened during the late 1990s, before Leader Worship became an official religion and mall visitors had to face immediate exit or arrest if they wore insufficiently reverential tee shirts.

This is another illustration of how the privatization of American life threatens democracy. When the public sphere is eroded, so are basic rights. This is the theme of a book mentioned here before, The Fox in the Henhouse by Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich.

West Virginia already experienced her share of extreme anti-worker privatization in the form of coal camps, company towns totally owned and controlled by (usually absentee) corporations where workers lived in company houses, went to the company doctor when sick or hurt, and bought goods at the company story with company scrip. Often company control extended over schools, churches, and the flow of information (the post office often being in the company store.

Order was maintained by private mine guards in the interests of the owners and trying to exercise rights of free speech and the freedom to assemble could get you kicked out of your house and job…or worse.

There was no public sphere.

The ultimate extreme of privatization is slavery, where people are literally privatized, with no rights or public standing.


At the other end of the spectrum, a contemporary example of upscale privatization is the gated community, which in its own way can erode public spaces and institutions. People living securely behind the gates and receiving private services are likely to resent and resist paying taxes to maintain public services, which can cause these to deteriorate.

It’s the same strategy being used to undermine public education and (so far without success) Social Security.

The attack on the public sphere and the transfer of remaining resources and power into the hands of corporations is ultimately an attack on democracy.

As Kahn and Minnich put it:

When a government established to promote the public good is “shrunk,” so is the possibility of acting for, preserving, and enjoying the rights conferred and backed up by that government. This is obviously reason to be deeply concerned about privatization. But to understand fully what we lose with the increase in privatization, more of us need to realize that whether we have or lack public rights has great effects on all aspects of our lives.

If we do not have the legal, political rights that protect free and equal public lives, we also do not have the rights that protect private lives. ) And without protected private lives, our personal lives are not safe, not free.


MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE. The good news is that a majority of senators voted for a clean bill yesterday to raise the minimum wage. The bad news is that they didn't have the required 60 votes. A poison pill version with a smaller wage increase and anti-worker provisions was defeated by a larger margin. The House is expected to take up the bill again soon. Here's a statement from the American Friends Service Committee on the issue.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

1 comment:

womanwhoherdscats said...

Excellent and helpful overview. But if Venus is hungry, maybe she could nibble at the Club for Growth instead of something that benefits the public sphere, like National Arboretum.