Guest Post: ‘The Commonweal’ by Linda Calhoun

Virginia Kruta (left), an associate editor for the conservative Daily Caller site. wrote an article last week about attending a Democrat rally. Kruta couldn’t believe what she was hearing. All these people thought the commonweal should be expanded to cover all sorts of outrageous things. Healthcare for all, for example, was a good idea! The thing that she found most worrying though was that in the excitement of a rally, she could see why people might believe that was a good idea. She was horrified! Her article attracted the attention of Fox News (naturally), and that led to an on-air interview.

Kruta’s shock at the feelings of those at the rally led to the amusement of many on the Left. Parts of her article, which was peppered with phrases like “truly terrifying,” were shared on social media. Here’s some of it:

But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke, followed by Bush, and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.

  • I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.
  • I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a “living wage” was a human right.
  • Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government’s job to make sure that those things were provided.

I watched as both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush deftly chopped America up into demographics, pointed out how those demographics had been victimized under the current system, and then promised to be the voice for those demographics. The movement, Ocasio-Cortez shouted, “knows no zip code. It knows no state. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no documented status.”

This incident inspired USian reader/commenter Linda Calhoun to write the following excellent post about the commonweal from her point of view.

The Commonweal
by Linda Calhoun

Last week conservative pundit Virginia Kruta wrote and spoke about attending a “progressive” campaign rally.  She used the phrase “truly terrifying” to describe her feelings and experience when she heard candidates speak about providing health care and education to children.

The internet, as you might expect, exploded with laughter.  Especially when one considers all the hate-mongering vitriol which characterizes right wing rallies, the irony is overwhelming.

But, as I started thinking more seriously about the worldviews represented by these people, I realized that there really are some serious issues worth confronting.

The commonweal, or common welfare, consists of those activities which societies believe are worth requiring their citizens to contribute to.  The most obvious examples are defense at the national level, infrastructure items such as water, sewer, electricity, and waste disposal, roads, fire and police protection, and in most cases, education, although that last one has been seriously under attack by the right wing lately.

On one end of the spectrum, you have those who believe that only defense should be included in the commonweal.  I recently heard one person opine that even defense should be privatized, although when I asked him exactly how he envisioned that working he was, predictably, vague.

On the other end, you have those who think that recreation opportunities such as parks, healthcare, and even “living wage” should be included.

How does a society decide what is worth funding?  How does the society go about providing the money to fund those activities?  How are they prioritized?  How are they maintained?

Tax strategies vary from place to place, but most places start with property taxes and sales taxes.  At the national level, we have income taxes, and some states also have income taxes, which they divide amongst the counties and municipalities, while reserving some for operations statewide.  Income taxes tend to be “progressive”, meaning that, as a percentage of income, the more one makes, they more one pays.  Sales taxes, on the other hand, are more “regressive”, so that as a percentage of income, the poorer you are, the more you must contribute.  We had a candidate (Republican, naturally) for Governor a few years back who kept saying during the campaign that Texas “had no taxes”.  He was holding this up to our state as the way it should be here.  But, Texas has no INCOME taxes.  The state has astronomical sales taxes, so the burden of paying for state and local activities of government falls hardest on the poorest citizens.  He lost his race that year.  Unfortunately, he won last time around, and he is our current Lieutenant Governor.  He’s termed out, so we’ll be rid of him at the end of the year.

Many activities that are part of the commonweal pay a long-term dividend.  Sometimes that’s not obvious, so those who don’t want to see them included only talk about the upfront cost of those activities.  Good examples of this are education and healthcare.  Educated people are more likely to become productive, contributing citizens, paying back many times over what the society invested in their education.  Healthy people contribute more, are absent from work less, and cost less than sick people.  But, if you’re programmed to see only the cost, the idea of investment for the future payoff is not on your radar.

The conservative philosophy relies on the concept that private is ALWAYS better than public.  As a related idea, the philosophy says that the market, with its aspects of competition and profit motive, will ALWAYS produce a better result than “government”.  It behooves us to ask if this is ALWAYS the case.  It seems to me that there are plenty of examples where the commonweal will function better than the for-profit business.

One case where this should be obvious (but isn’t) is the for-profit prison industry.  I live in Torrance County, New Mexico, which, a year ago, lost its major employer, a for-profit prison.  That loss has devastated the economy of our county seat.  We have also lost a necessary service for the entire area.  Prisoners, who should be incarcerated locally, are now transported a hundred miles.  This includes drunks, minor traffic offenders, and others who would be released the next day, but now must be housed until they can be processed.  The county is paying for transport, for personnel to do the transport, for meals, etc. while they’re in custody, and other expenses that we wouldn’t have if we had a local lockup.

The county got sucked into using a private prison company when the company dangled the prospect of much-increased revenue were they to locate here.  Greed and stupidity took over, and so it was decided.  The county officials never considered the possibility that they would be left up the creek if/when the for-profit company decided that they weren’t making enough profit.

And, consider the social cost as well.  How do you grow a business?  Well, you grow a business by increasing your customer base.  So, the for-profit prison company has no interest in rehabilitation.  Quite the opposite.  If people pull themselves together and become law-abiding, contributing citizens, it’s better for the society, but worse for the company, which has now just lost a customer.  But, if people fail, and are returned to lockup, the company now gets paid, once again.

The US has 6% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prison population.  What is the point of trying to increase that?  From the company’s viewpoint, making more money is the point.  From society’s viewpoint?  Duh.

Another example:  Recently a friend of mine was researching a nursing program she was interested in.  Our state university which offers the program charges $12,500 per year tuition.  A private, for-profit college in the area charges $22,500 per year for the same program.  The $10,000 difference does not benefit the students, but goes into the pockets of the investor-owners of the private school.  And, their student body is not as competent, since the criterion for admission into the private school is whether you can pay the money.  There are prerequisite requirements for admission into the public university which don’t exist in the private school.

So, why would someone like Kruta find inclusion into the commonweal of education and healthcare “terrifying” when those activities seem like obviously good investments for society?

The conservative philosophy sees fear as the major means of shaping behavior.  The philosophy postulates that any support given to people makes them weak and lazy.  So, if education and healthcare are included into the commonweal, the recipients of those benefits will become deadbeats and parasites.

How should we respond to that?  It’s incorrect, but I would say that there is a grain of truth there, and that that should be acknowledged by those of us who would like to see the commonweal expanded.  That grain of truth is often denied.

When I was an undergrad, I lived in two different places where a large house was shared by several people.  The rent, and the maintenance, and the activities of daily living, were supposed to be shared amongst the residents.  Each would pay a small amount of rent, much smaller than living alone would cost.  A great idea, in theory, but in neither place did the reality match the theory.

In the first place, people moved out mid-semester, meaning that it was impossible to budget how much each person would need for rent.  Others stayed, but didn’t pay their share, so those of us with a sense of responsibility either had to make up the difference or lose our home.  Some of us cooked and cleaned and did laundry, and others didn’t.  In one situation, we somehow acquired a few “hippie travelers”, who stayed, rent-free, expense-free, as they sucked the group tit.  One of them even had the gall to suggest that our possessions should be held collectively.  What, my underwear?  My toothbrush?  No, he had his eye on my guitar, which I had bought with an inheritance.  Most of them didn’t know that I kept a horse. (He wouldn’t have suggested sharing her, or the expense of keeping her because he didn’t care about that.)  He just wanted a treasured possession of mine and he thought of a way to guilt trip me into forking it over.   It didn’t work, and it pissed me off a bunch.

The second group living arrangement was a little better, but not much.  I finally moved out and found a place by myself, where I was responsible for me and nobody else.

So, back to Kruta.  She’s assuming that most of the population is like my deadbeat housemates.  Is that accurate?  No.  But, there are some people like that out there, and they’re infuriating.  I think it’s best to acknowledge that.  I also think that it’s possible, and desirable, to set up programs in the commonweal to mitigate the problems of waste and abuse.  The investment payback is huge, and well worth the effort.  And, it’s in society’s interest to make that investment, both financially and socially.

Items such as “living wage” are, in my opinion, more debatable.  But, at this point in our society’s life, it seems to me that we’ve gone so far in the other direction that there needs to be some balance restored.  Besides education and healthcare, investment in our environment, including national parks and forests, investment in science and research, and investment in maintaining social security are worthwhile uses of our tax money.  I’m not sure why conservatives hate the idea of being ripped off by poor people, but love the idea of being ripped off by rich people.

But, wherever we decide the best investments are, there is, and should be, a commonweal.



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64 Responses to “Guest Post: ‘The Commonweal’ by Linda Calhoun”

  1. Randall Schenck says:

    A very interesting article with a lot of information for everyone to think about. It highlights some of the major differences between the right and left that we seldom pay attention to but they are always in the background. These opposing ideas in the U.S. have been able to take root and grow much more than they do in other parts of the free world. It reminds me of the old joke about the republican, conservative complete description of their government. It says – Elect me and I will show you just how bad government can be.

    The history of America is just one great struggle to obtain and understand what good government is capable of doing. We never seem to be able to get there.

    • I find it interesting the things that it’s accepted the government should do in most of the developed world, but not in the US. Healthcare is an obvious example. Although it was started by left-wing governments, right-wing ones have come to accept it elsewhere because all the economic arguments support it. There are still some who try and give private insurers a bigger part, but those efforts are usually driven by fear (apocalyptic scenarios), personal or campaign (funding) greed, or both.

      • Randall Schenck says:

        It is hard to understand but in this country, the hard core republican mentality has always been here. The anti-federalist became the first party and was headed by Thomas Jefferson. Minimal government and states rights was their call. Of course Jefferson thought everyone would stay in farming too. Big business in the late 19th century and early 20th made the republican party their own. Only after the great depression did progress begin with FDR. But the hard gore republicans hated FDR with a passion and fought everything including social security and later medicare. This country would be in the dark ages if not for a couple of democratic terms. As long as the party of big business and big money owns the place, nothing will change. They are so good at the propaganda of their cause they have suckered millions of poor and middle class into belief in this garbage. Keep them ignorant and down on the farm, so to speak, even if there is no more farms, just city slums.

        • Linda Calhoun says:

          I know that “hard gore Republicans” was a typo and not intentional, but wow, does it fit!!


        • Is Economics taught as a subject in high school in the US? We have it from year 10, though it’s an optional subject. A lot of people take it and it means many NZers have a good grasp of the basics – enough to work out which party is making the most sense when it comes to the economy anyway. Of course, that’s not always the Labour Party here.

          • Randall Schenck says:

            I do not think so. You have to know it was many years ago for me but as best I remember in the high school years it was not. I did those years in Iowa and my wife, Kansas. She does not remember either. I am not sure that government was a requirement in High School. Of course most of these things depends on what state you were in – another real problem with American education.

          • Civics is a compulsory part of the curriculum here. It’s not a class on its own – it’s part of a class called Social Studies. Social Studies also includes drugs, sex, STDs, racism, sexism, and all sorts of other things. Social Studies is compulsory from year 3 to year 10 (and is obviously age appropriate).

          • Linda Calhoun says:

            Economics is offered but not required.

            Civics used to be required, but I don’t know if it’s even offered anymore, even as an elective.


          • I heard that it’s not part of the curriculum anymore. I’ve got a US text book for Civics, and it’s quite good. It would be useful I think for everyone to know the stuff in it.

          • Mark R. says:

            I went to really good public schools. Economics was never offered, Civics was never offered. In high school, everyone had to take “US Government” in their Senior year (12th grade). It was only one year and covered so much history, that I didn’t learn much, especially not about civics and civic responsibility. Getting civics out of public schooling was a concerted, conservative effort to dumb Americans down. I wonder if it started happening after the 60’s. Them damn kids, especially the minorities were too uppity.

  2. Mark R. says:

    Very engaging piece. Couldn’t agree more with the thesis.

    Another observation regarding why conservatives hate the idea of being ripped off by poor people, but love the idea of being ripped off by rich people. It can be said that conservatives hate socialism when it benefits the poor, but love socialism when it bails out banks, or farmers.

    The roots of just about every problem that you examine can be found when Reagan got elected. By destroying unions and giving huge tax cuts to the rich imagining that the money would trickle down, Reagan’s policies were the impetus for the income inequality we see today.

    If we truly cared about making America great again, there are two simple ways to do it. Go back to a tax code that has a cap on how much money an individual can make…how about 20 million a year? If you can’t live on over $1 million bucks a month, then something is seriously wrong with you. The other would be to get money out of politics, federally fund elections and use only paper ballots (like Oregon and Washington). These two things (and their subsets) could never happen under a GOP led government, therefore, the GOP has no real answers to help the vast majority of Americans.

    • Linda Calhoun says:

      Something I find particularly irritating about right-wingers is their willingness to take both sides of an argument, depending on who they like and who they dislike. You’re right; socialism is bad if it benefits people they don’t like, but it’s fine for bankers and farmers.

      Sexual predation is horrible when it’s Al Franken, but cool when it’s Don the Con. Obama wasn’t hard enough on the Russians, but now that it’s their hero, the Russians are our friends (not). Neo-Nazis can run people over with cars and it’s fine, but let citizens object to keeping kids in cages for 22 hours a day and not letting them bathe or brush their teeth, and cries ring out for civility. And on, and on…


    • Randall Schenck says:

      I am of the belief that getting the money out is our only chance. It would only take a constitutional amendment announcing public funding for our elections. Will it ever happen…probably not.

  3. N Walsh says:

    Nice write up Linda. I have always found the idea of private prisons abhorrent, hardly befitting a first world country.

  4. Jenny Haniver says:

    Yes, Linda Calhoun, your piece contains much food for thought for me, beginning with the notion of ‘the commonweal’. I hadn’t really thought about the commonweal in a long time. It’s a term I’d say off the top of my head that I understand, but having a grasp of its basic meaning is not to imply that that I have a current working grasp of the nuances and complexities of the concept, or what it means to different people and groups, “the spectrum.” I need to refresh my recollection.

    Virginia Kruta was grasping at straws with her jejune caper, and the shallowness of her thought and writing (as well as the goofy gleam in her eyes) attests to that. If she’s a fair specimen of their editorial staff, they need to tighten their qualifications.

    Speaking of for-profit prisons, I’m sure that you’re familiar with the reports of Shane Bauer, who went undercover as a worker in a for-profit prison. Fascinating and frightening stuff — “truly terrifying” and that is not hyperbole.

    • Linda Calhoun says:

      The place in Louisiana where Bauer went undercover was a sister location to the one here, both owned by CoreCivic.

      My partners in the restaurant both worked there, and were really glad to see it go, for a number of reasons. It wasn’t as bad as the one in Louisiana, but it had its own set of problems.

      And now we find out that Geo and CoreCivic are both involved in housing those kids that have been taken from immigrant families. The stories that have come out are awful. I was a practicing psychologist for many years, and I can tell you that the fallout, both psychological and physical, will be long-term problematic for most of them.

      It’s horrible to watch my government, my society, behaving like that, especially toward kids, and feel powerless to stop it. I am hoping that the Dems will get at least the House back in November, but even though it’s predicted, I am not hopeful. This is why the Republicans have spent a lot of energy courting the Russians, after all. Can you believe that seven of them went to Russia over the Independence Day holiday?

      I grew up during the Cold War. I always thought, even as a little kid, that it was phony, that it was only a matter of time before the Republicans and the Russians discovered their common affinity for totalitarianism. Took longer than I thought it would, but here we are.


      • Randall Schenck says:

        Another thought I had on the immigration disaster is regardless of which party was in power in the house or senate, laws would be enforced. We now have proof this is not so. The rule today is, whoever is in power will determine the laws and legalities.

        Black Water in Iraq was another great example of privatization in action.

        • Linda Calhoun says:

          I was in college during the height of the VietNam war civil disobedience demonstrations.

          There was a lot of “law and order” posturing among the pro-war right.

          During that time, I had, no kidding, a New Mexico State University administrator tell me that the 26th amendment to the US Constitution did not apply to NMSU.

          So, the selective enforcement mentality has been around a lot longer than just this last administration.


          • Randall Schenck says:

            That’s a good one that 26th amendment claim but I am sure not enforced. The actual breaking of the law by our government now is and has been taking place. The actions at the border alone has resulted in breaking many laws. The courts have attempted to stop other examples such as banning religious groups from entering the country for phony reasons.

        • And isn’t the brother of Betsy De Vos, Erik Prince, head of Blackwater?

          • Randall Schenck says:

            You are correct on that one. Remember it is likely that brother Eric was involved in the Trump campaign attempting to make back channels to Russia. Sister Betsy is busy destroying the school systems.

      • Jenny Haniver says:

        I was outraged but hardly surprised when I learned that defense contractors had been hired to transport and house the immigrants/refugees, including unaccompanied children. And I was outraged but hardly surprised when I learned of the cruelties, intentional and unintentional, verbal, emotional, and physical, that many of these people were subjected to, including and especially children. But hasn’t the for-profit prison industry been involved for a long time in confining detained immigrants? Including children is just an extension of their tentacles; and their stock is rising on that human tide.

        I grew up during the Cold War, too, in Los Angeles, and I remember the craziness when Khruschev came to town. I remember the FBI visiting my parents twice, not because of anything they were involved in, but because of some social or business ties they had to people deemed to be of suspect loyalties. Could one of those people have been the shoe repairman we went to, who was in an interracial marriage and had copies of Soviet Life on the coffee table in his waiting area? Or a dear friend of my mother, who was blacklisted as a teacher because she had joined the Communist party back in the 1930s, but was no longer a member? She got her sweet revenge by marrying a wealthy capitalist — horrors! I think she lived a long, contented, and honorable life.

        • Linda Calhoun says:

          Jenny, that is so awful that your parents were harassed because of their ties to other people. I expect that would be happening now, if not for the fact that Trump as made an enemy of the FBI. At lease some agents in that branch still have some integrity and are willing to do their jobs impartially.

          I notice that Guiliani this morning is saying that collusion is not a crime. Mueller must be getting pretty close to the truth. Let’s hope so.


          • Jenny Haniver says:

            That sort of thing is chilling. My parents must have been very afraid, but they didn’t show their fear to me. The LA City school system lost a wonderful, very dedicated elementary school teacher when my mother’s friend was drummed out. Luckily they didn’t go after my mom or the school system would have lost two superb teachers. And it could happen again, given the way things are going. I just hope that the agents with integrity don’t quit out of frustration, because then Trump could find his very own Lavrenty Beria to run the FBI. I exaggerate, but…

            Guiliani flaps his gums so fast that he can’t keep up with himself. You say that you were a practicing psychologist. Isn’t his speech “word salad” par excellence? Well, I know it’s strategically calculated confusion by someone with absolutely no moral compass, but it’s word salad nonetheless, and so is a lot of Trump’s speech.

  5. Rick Longworth says:

    Good essay. I think it’s pretty clear that many conservative people think from a position of fear. They are just naturally sensitive to change in their environment and assume it will be a change for the worse. Liberals, on the other hand, accept that there must be change and that that means taking risks. In order for the conservative temperament to accept progressive change, they need to be educated to see change in a balanced way. But, the Republican party has found ways of using the innate temerity in those demographics by exaggerating risk and obfuscating the benefits of change. It fundamentally dishonest, but it’s an effective political strategy.

  6. nicky says:

    Great post, but there is something I don’t get. A ‘for profit’ prison, how does that even work? Forced labour or what?

  7. Linda Calhoun says:

    A government prison is funded and staffed by the commonweal.

    A for-profit prison is funded by payments from the government, per prisoner, and staffed by a private company. The company hires their own employees.

    The incentives are to increase population and to decrease expenses. Contracts with governments usually state that the for-profit company must provide “rehabilitation services”, but the incentive is to make these minimal and as ineffective as possible. Ditto other services provided to inmates. They (the inmates) have to pay to ASK to see a doctor or other clinician unless it’s an emergency. Food is as cheap as they can make it. They can work, usually for a few cents per hour, and these funds go to pay for canteen items or medical appointments, etc.

    It’s a highly profitable business.


    • Randall Schenck says:

      The false argument from republican world is that privatization will save money for us, the tax payers. However, this is seldom the case and usually involves a poor substitute replacing the govt. operation. How well and proper the contract and bit system operates has a lot to do with what you get. If you do not ask for much, you won’t get much. Privatization of the military or of a prison system is probably the worst place for this form. In an area most would not think about, I experienced in my working career a firm or company that was not private but also not fully government. I know most of you have not heard of it (Army & Air Force Exchange Service), also know as AAFES but this would be described properly as a non-appropriated instrumentality of the Department of Defense. What that means is, we were part of the department of defense but operated without tax payer money. In other words we had to generate income to pay our own way and yet provide services to the military. You can look it up on line if you are interested but I mention this simply because I know about it, having worked there for 27 years and it is a different way to go that has been operating for more than 100 years. I will also say that the government has attempted to farm our operation out to private companies for years but has not been able to do this at all, so far.

      • Linda Calhoun says:

        What exactly did you do? What services did you provide to the military?


        • Randall Schenck says:

          We provided the main retail facility, referred as the PX or Post Exchange on Army installations and the BX or Base Exchange on Air Force installations. In this area you could call us the Walmart for the Army and Air Force. But we performed many other services, including shoppettes (small 7/11 type stores) nearly all eating facilities on bases or posts, such as Burger Kings, 31 Flavor Ice cream, pizza hut, and many other franchise eating places. We also run the gas stations, the theaters and many other services. This is a world wide business with roughly 30,000 employees. I would put the gross sales at something like 10 billion annually. Also now includes on line shopping.

    • nicky says:

      So a ‘private prison’ is still funded by the government.
      I fail to see how that makes any sense. ‘Privatisation’ of a product that clients are willing to pay for (eg postal services or telecommunications), I can still understand (regardless of whether it is a good idea), but this is different. There is only one client to start with (the State), which is kinda weird for a private business. And of course it opens all kinds of doors to abuse, as you illustrated. And it must be more expensive to the State than the regular doing it oneself. It appears insane, IMMO.
      It would be a good election point, getting rid of ‘private prisons’, but then I gather that in the US prisoners are not allowed to vote, for ‘unfathomable’ reasons (/s).
      Sorry if this is all a bit rambling, but I’m still confused -and shocked. How much of the US prisons are actually ‘private’?

      • nicky says:

        I see that ‘only’ 7% of state prisoners and 18% of federal prisoners are in private jails, but it is growing. Moreover, to my surprise and shock, 2 high security prisons in the RSA are also ‘private’. I’m still digesting all this, and I realise that any of us might be a stockholder in this, since much of it falls under investment in ‘real estate’ and ‘job creators’. Sick.

      • Randall Schenck says:

        I would let Linda address most of your questions but privatization (conversions of govt. run institutions or services to private companies) is a process that happens in many areas. I know of water service to communities that has gone private as an example. The city who did provide the service simply contracts out (takes bids) and selects a private company to provide and manage that utility. The company does this for a price that presumably covers their cost and gives them a profit. Otherwise they could not do it. The bad side of this could include the private company going bankrupt. I assume the job would fall on the City to then take over or get another company.

        • Linda Calhoun says:

          One of the big downsides to privatization is that the managing companies are motivated to increase their profits by cutting corners.

          In the water utility example that you cite, for instance, they might not want to report cases where water is being contaminated by deteriorating pipes. It’s cheaper to let people drink bad water than it is to fix the pipes.

          Air traffic control has been on the block to be privatized, but so far it hasn’t been. Can’t you just imagine a private company pushing controllers to work massive amounts of overtime, so that they are exhausted and prone to mistakes?

          That’s actually one of CoreCivic’s strategies. My friends who worked there were constantly being called in to work “mandated” (required) overtime, because it’s cheaper to pay overtime pay than it is to add employees and have to pay benefits. Some weeks they were working 72-80 hours, and if you count commuting time, there was no time to eat and take a shower, much less get eight hours of sleep. They worked 12 hour shifts, with no breaks. If they wanted food, they had to pack their lunches and eat while working. Sometimes if people didn’t show up for the next shift, they were stuck there until someone relieved them.

          So, the employees get screwed, the inmates get screwed, and the 1$ rake in the money.


        • There are benefits to privatization in some instances. It makes budgeting easier as there is a fixed cost for the service. A private company usually has lower overheads, which is the main reason they are able to offer the service at a lower cost. It means the government doesn’t have to worry about staffing, sick leave, annual leave, staff training etc., which can be a hassle. It’s SEP. Someone else’s problem.

          However, with something like prisons and schools, and some other things, there are all sorts of ethical issues around whether these should be farmed out to private contractors.

          Although there are many things I think it’s okay, sometimes even preferable, to privatize, I’m completely against it for prisons.

          • nicky says:

            Yes, it appears complete madness to me.
            For things people are willing to pay for, especially if for something better -or perceived as better- one can understand. That is why we have courier services (that is an indictment for regular ‘state’ mail service, btw).
            The idea of private service companies is that there is competition, and some can therefore streamline to offer better service, or lower tariff, or… etc.
            I think with prisons there are 2 clients, whose interests are not really compatible. On the one hand you have governments who want it cheap (although they should want good rehabilitation too, but that is such a ‘fleeting’ concept, easy to ignore) and you have the prisoners on the other hand. Since the latter are not in a position (well, generally) to pay for their ‘services’, and are not in a position to choose, it is clearly a situation where privatisation can never be a proper ‘service’ to privatise. Inane.
            Why not privatise the Judiciary? Oops, maybe I should shut up. don’t give the idiots any ideas.

          • I think the problem is also that most politicians understand that treating prisoners well and investing in their rehab etc. is a much better long term bet for any society, but anything they do in that area is seen by a large proportion of the electorate as being soft on criminals. They want to see criminals punished, and are looking for retribution/revenge. It’s really nasty. No matter how much you explain that it’s better to treat them well, some people won’t like it and votes will be lost. And whichever main party decides to do things for prisoners, the other main one will campaign on getting tough and get votes because of it. It’s why referanda a re such a problem. The public on the whole just doesn’t understand the issues the way someone whose sat through the select committee process has. More often than not, the public do not know best. We vote for politicians to represent us for a reason, and we choose people we think have similar values to us and trust them to make the best decisions. Just like you go for the best plumber or electrician or hairdresser. Too many don’t think of politicians as professionals, which means they think someone like Trump is a suitable person to put in the White House. Sorry, I went on a bit of a rant there!!!

          • nicky says:

            Still, would it not be possible to present a programme that is ‘tough on prisoners’, while still trying to rehabilitate? Must be. I mean, being a prisoner, having your liberty of movement and schedules taken away is nearly by definition a serious punishment (one of the best descriptions I know is by Herman Charles Bosman- a very under estimated author- :”Cold Stone Jug”).
            Although there are certainly some real sociopaths, that are basically impossible to rehabilitate, I think a majority of criminals are not. Privatising jails will not improve that distinction. There is an ‘undue’ interest. Private prisons have an interest to have as many prisoners as possible, so they have a strong incentive not to rehabilitate.

            How to formulate it, it is still tentative, but I’m trying to find some heuristic for where privatasation might be useful or not (you may call them nicky’s rules of the thumb, but I’m sure greater minds have pondered about it and formulated it much better):
            1 – Any institution/service that virtually needs a monopoly to be used is not a good candidate for ‘privatisation’ (eg. water)
            2 – Any institution/service where success reduces it’s necessity, is not a good candidate for privatisation’ (eg. prisons, but the same would go for eg. abortions, make them lucrative, and the incentive to reduce the numbers disappears).
            3 – Any institution/service that is basic and where privatasation risks of leaving large swats of the population unable to access is not a good candidate for privitisation (eg. education, health care)
            These are all negatives , of course, I’m still pondering about what conditions would make an institution/service a good candidate for privatisation.
            [Re privatisation of warfare, we do have Blackwater and mercenaries more generally, nothing new there]

          • We used to have a Ministry of Works that did all building, maintenance, and infrastructure (incl roads, railways etc) for the government. It was expensive and inefficient. There was a huge improvement in cost and quality when the government began to use private contractors. However, 45 years on, there is a bit of a problem when it comes to big, especially tall, buildings. There are very few companies in NZ capable of doing the jobs and so they cut their margins too tight in order to win the contract. Then as soon as something goes wrong, they go bankrupt. Another one closed the doors last week, and other big building companies are struggling. The govt, which contracts c. 20% of big projects, needs to pay more or risk NZ not even having any companies capable of building the really big projects.

      • Linda Calhoun says:

        Yes, still only one client. The rationale is that a private company can provide the services needed at a lower cost than the govt. can.

        And, it usually starts out that way. But the costs always go up, so that the private prison companies can bleed the govt. entities.

        CoreCivic left here because they were supposed to be guaranteed a minimum number of inmates. They want no risk. One of the alleged benefits of private companies is that they “assume the risk”. But things were set up so that there was no risk for them.

        And then, when their blackmail didn’t work, they left.


        • Randall Schenck says:

          While privatizing the prisons is a very bad idea we have to know that the state run prisons can also be pretty bad. Here in Kansas is a good example with poor management and most important, underpaid employees. The facility at El Dorado correction is suppose to have 1955 prisoners maximum. However, they have 2078 and this is also a big problem at many prisons in America. In fact, I think privatizing was one excuse they used for states who did not want to spend the money to build more. Last I checked this prison had 94 open positions out of 483 full time positions. That also causes problems and you can read about them out line. The turnover of employees is a real problem due to working conditions and low pay. It is hard to find people who will do this work.

          • nicky says:

            If you talk about too many inmates, I gather that a substantial chunk of the inmates in US prisons are there for the private use of cannabis. Would de-criminalising that not be a better measure than to privatise, or have overcrowded prisons serving nobodies interest?
            (yes, I know I’m preaching to the converted, but still, it is ridiculous)

      • It’s an election point in NZ. One political party was proposing introducing private prisons here. Two were privatised on a trial basis. There were all sorts of criteria around food, health, rehabilitation etc that had to be met, and they were much stronger than in US prisons.

        One actually worked out okay and is still private, though many would still like it public again.

        The other was a disaster. Films of fight clubs operating within the prison, for example, turned up on YouTube. I wrote about it at the time. I’ll post a link later.

  8. Darrell Ernst says:

    In trying to get across how investing in the individuals that make up society pays off by helping to increase individuals’ potential to contribute to society I often use the example of the GI Bill. I don’t know if I’ve ever convinced anyone, but it seems like a very clear example to me.

    • One of the most basic examples is education. Schools provide employers with an educated workforce, who are also socialized thus enabling them to work together.

      I don’t know much about your GI Bill, but what I do know it seems to be a benefit to society in a similar way.

      • Darrell Ernst says:

        Yes, basically the same thing. It gives free or supplemented higher education to people who have served in the military. It is still a plus these days I’m sure, but when it was 1st implemented it caused drastic positive changes in the US. Prior to its implementation college education was much more rare in the US, mostly something only elites could gain entry to or afford. Then, post WWII, a significant percentage of the very large number of military personnel returned to civilian life and received free college educations. That pretty quickly resulted in the US becoming world class in science, engineering, technology and industry, and a huge economic boom. It also broke the barrier to college education in general so that it became much more accessible to the average person, even non-veterans without the benefit of the GI Bill.

        • It’s that sort of thing that should prove that investing in things like education are good for society long term. Back then, the US was way ahead of many other countries in those areas, and it was education that did it.

          • Darrell Ernst says:

            Exactly my thinking too. It seems so freaking obvious when you look at the actual real life data. But unfortunately for many people ideological commitments trump facts. Even (especially?) when the facts demonstrate positive results for virtually everyone, contrary to those strongly held ideological beliefs.

        • nicky says:

          Oh my, I thought that the US being world class in science, engineering technology and industry was greatly driven by importing immigrants (from Einstein to Musk), but now it turns out I was wrong all along 🙂

          • Darrell Ernst says:

            Yes, you must be right. The US sucks at absolutely everything except bullying and taking credit for other people achievements, always has and always will.

          • nicky says:

            Seriously, the US has produced some, nay many, great scientists, but my point was that they also attracted a lot of scientist from all over the World and gave them the opportunity to do great work, from Fermi and Szilard to Mayr. Immigration has been Great for America, and America has been Great for immigrants, until now, it seems.

          • Darrell Ernst says:

            I don’t disagree with that. It’s true. But my point wasn’t that the GI Bill led to the US producing a few great scientists. My point was that it led to producing a whole bunch of competent experts in many different fields. An order of magnitude more than previous. A few great scientists are a wonderful resource but they can’t, by themselves, enable what happened in the US starting in the 50s. It takes a whole bunch of competent scientists, engineers and other experts.

            And I’m not so insular as to suggest that the US is unique in this respect. I’ve no doubt that similar episodes have occurred in many places. I’m just talking about the US GI Bill and how positively effective it was.

  9. Andrea says:

    Great post! I especially liked the last part: “conservatives hate the idea of being ripped off by poor people, but love the idea of being ripped off by rich people.” Maybe they think they’ll be one of the rich people someday….

  10. nicky says:

    With all the ‘excitement (for the wrong reasons) about Mt Trump’s ‘exploits’ in Helsinki, I completely forgot to congratulate you with the Black Ferns 7’s. Well done, they were indisputably the best team. However, I was a bit underwhelmed by their version of the Haka 🙂
    This Saturday it is the Super-rugby final: Crusaders against the Highveld Lions.
    The Crusaders dismissed the Canes easily, and the Lions came back from 14-0 behind to beat the Warratahs handsomely. Malcolm Marx (I gather you are a fan of him) again showed what a good hooker he is. Warren Whitely is back as their captain and we were all surprised by the power of the ordinary looking Kwagga Smith. Their strength is that they operate as a team, and have great scoring capacity. Their defense is a bit wobbly though.
    Compare that to the Crusaders, not only did they score nearly as many tries as the Lions (only one less), they only conceded 39 tries (55 for the Lions), less than any other team. A very solid defense. The Crusaders have won the competition 8 times, the Lions never, just their third consecutive final. And the Crusaders operate as least as well as the Lions as a team. And they play at home, where they have an unbeaten streak of 20 consecutive wins.
    No, I think that the Crusaders are big favourites. That being said, would be interesting to see how Malcolm Marx compares to Cody Taylor. It is bound to be an exciting match (if the Lions are not completely outplayed by the Crusaders, that is).

    • The Crusaders is My Team, though I’ve never lived in the region, so I’m really enjoying the Super Rugby this year, and really looking forward to the game tonight. My brother lives in Christchurch, and goes to all the games with his 10-year-old son, who plays rugby. My brother Doug played too (hooker or flanker), but was also an extremely good hockey player. When he first left uni he played rugby in South Africa for a while (and wrecked his shoulder). He still played later in England, and later the US though. Doug and I text each other during the game, which is fun. He usually has a big bet on with someone, so he’s done quite well this year. He doesn’t tell me until during the game, so I don’t know if he’s got one tonight. I’ve been thinking of you since I found out the Lions won last week because of the NZ vs SA final.

      I agree the Crusaders are big favourites but as you say, there will be some interesting match-ups. The Crusaders defence is outstanding, and even the Lions will struggle to get through it I think, and that could tire them out before the end of the game. I can see the Crusaders doing a lot of scoring in the last 20 minutes. They’re also masters of scoring just before and just after the half-time break. I expect the score to be fairly one-sided in favour of the Crusaders, but I also expect that the score will not be a true reflection of the match – I think the Lions will perform much better than the score appears to show.

      • nicky says:

        37-18, as expected the Crusaders won. They are simply the best team in world rugby, an ‘oiled machine’. They won 9 of the 23 titles, and looking at their performance today one wonders why they didn’t win more 🙂
        The Lions committed quite some unforced errors, and their driving maul from the line-out, one of their great weapons got nowhere, nor did their reputed scrums. I do not think the Lions played their best match today, far from it, but all credit to the Crusaders. They truly deserve to be the Champions.

        • I agree. Lions’ wasted passes, such as the two times they just threw over the sideline. They had a huge advantage in territory and especially possession, but seemed unable to make use of it. That ball that wasn’t kicked dead was another silly mistake.

          The Crusaders knew their strength in rucks and scrums were something the Lions relied on and so had tactics ready to counter them. There were times when the Lions would have scored against any other team, but the Crusaders were ready for them.

          The Crusaders made mistakes too, but the Lions didn’t appear to have a plan ready for when that happened. It seems to me there wasn’t enough analysis of how to counter the Crusaders.

          Having said all that, they played really well, were a really tough opposition, and the game was closer than the score indicated. (And my brother won $50 on the game.) He took his 8yo daughter as well as his son, and they had a wonderful time, which is what it’s all about in the end.

          • nicky says:

            “The Crusaders made mistakes too”, yes, but very few of them. The Crusaders are a team that when a chance presents itself they take it and score in most cases. And indeed the Lions did not do that. As you said, they dominated possession, but (again as you said) the Crusaders defense kinda knew what would happen next. That is ‘defensive intelligence’. And I said their defense was very solid. That was an understatement. Their defense is outstanding, the best in world rugby, by far.
            What distinguishes the Crusaders from other teams? First, of course, ball handling skills, most teams could learn a lesson there. Secondly the intelligent and highly effective defense I referred to earlier. Thirdly a creative attack that translates chances into points (although some other teams are good at that too). And last, but not least, a humungous amount of confidence (for any other team that would be misplaced).
            I think (sorry for repeating myself) that the Crusaders are the best now, and they are the backbone of the All Blacks. That promises for the Nations tournament due soon.

      • nicky says:

        The Crusaders are the most successful super rugby team ever, not only did they win 9 times, the came in second 4 times, and third 4 times, so they ended in the first three in 17 of 23 tournaments.
        Compare that to the second best team the Blues, won 3 times (last in 2003), second once and third once.Or the third best team, the Bulls, won 3 times (they never lost a final) and once third.
        The Lions are closing in on the Sharks by ending second 3 times, the Sharks ended second 4 times. The Brumbies also ended second 4 times, but did win it once.
        The closest score in a final was in 2014, when the Waratahs beat the Crusaders by a single point (33-32), the largest point difference was in 2009, when the Bulls beat the Chiefs 61-17.
        (I simply know you like these trivia).

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