Private Companies Delivering Public Services

The idea of contracting public services to private companies which operate them at a profit needs to be reevaluated. Several articles have been published recently documenting how they operate. Mother Jones had a long article about private prisons, where a reporter worked as a guard for four months in order to research it. The horrors of that prison in Louisiana shocked me not because of their nature, I had read about them before, but because of the relentless, arbitrary and unnecessary use of violence. Shortly after, the New York Times ran a piece on private companies running fire departments and emergencies services, often in rural areas or areas without a large tax base, documenting some needless deaths, long waiting times, poorly trained staff, understaffing, billing people for saving their home from a fire, pressuring those who are driven in an ambulance for a signature giving the company permission to bill them . And in July following an investigation by The Marshal Project, Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General was asked to investigate private transportation companies which transport prisoners and abuses and starves them. To be fair, a month after the request, a company involved in deadly prisoner transportation put safety measures in place. But such changes do not alter the idea behind contracting with private companies, an idea which was meant to shrink government and allow businesses to take over. Since governments do not need to make a profit, these companies, one learns from reading these articles, in order to have a profitable bottom line, have had to cut corners. Because most of the people involved were prisoners, we have been slow to open our eyes, now this spate of journalistic research is providing facts that we have for too long avoided to consider. The idea that private companies run these services better may be a fallacy. The frustrations we have all experienced with insurance, cable, phone or similar companies which are private or publicly traded, does offer a window into the fact that people are people whether they work for the public or private sector, and mistakes will occur. As to the idea that contracting public services to private companies is cheaper, that is becoming increasingly moot. But where they, given the kind of services they render, we need to ask ourselves whether our conscience can so cheaply be bought.