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Reframing the Debate over U.S. Ports

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Message Barbara Tutor
The debate over the operation of U.S. Ports must not be limited to “U.S. corporations vs. foreign corporations vs. foreign corporations owned by foreign countries.” Why should critical national infrastructure and operations be outsourced to private corporations at all? The real debate is how to reclaim all the ports from private enterprise and operate them within the public domain.

Corporatists falsely proclaim that public facilities and operations of any type are inferior to private corporations. This dogma of corporate public relations and corporate lobbyists is specious. Historically, public programs that have not allowed outsourcing to private enterprise have operated with great success in our country, even through viciously attacked by self-interested capitalist extremists. Private enterprise may be preferable for private competitive businesses in fair and open markets, but private enterprise is ineffective and possibly dangerous in critical public operations. There are many valid reasons to exclude private enterprise from public programs. Security, Incentives, Costs, Jobs and Transparency, are the most crucial reasons.

1. Security, as we have just become painfully aware, is the most vital reason to keep critical public infrastructure within the public domain. It is much easier to exercise control and insure security when all employees and professional management report institutionally and democratically to the people.

2. Incentive for every private corporation is the bottom line, i.e., profits. This incentive tends to push some costs down at the expense of quality, safety, and wages of workers. Also, cost cutting does not usually benefit the public, but rather accrues to top executives and major investors. It makes economic sense to operate public infrastructure at no profits, or as increased tax revenues for the public good.

3. Costs are the usual justification pushed by corporatists. They simply look at the product or service costs and do not consider the social costs of their operation. Public institutions operated as one giant industry, in lieu of multiple private contractors, have much more control over costs and relative quality of the product or service. Workers can be paid a civil wage and safety can be kept up to standards without passing unjust cost savings along to corporate CEOs.

4. Jobs within public domain employ local people and are under the civil service merit system. This provides long-term stability to the labor market and to U.S. workers. Benefits for workers can also be sustained at a more stable and socially equitable level. Drastic cuts in employment from private contractors shifting workers back and forth are eliminated.

5. Transparency is essential in order for the public to know the true costs and policies of these facilities and operations. Private corporations keep most vital information secret. Knowledge about methods, staffing, technologies, and financial accounts, as well as, truthful exposure of problems are guarded from public view. Public domain opens up the secret places and gives access to vital details about the conditions of critical infrastructure and vital operations.

Public-private partnerships, like the military-industrial complex, tend to become corrupt, enrich private contractors, and keep vital knowledge about military policies and operations hidden from public oversight. Money, power, and political influence become the driving forces, not public good nor will of the people of this great country. Political officials need to listen to the people, then rethink and reclaim the entire critical infrastructure and operations that keeps the United States secure, responsible-accountable to the public, and fiscally viable.
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Barbara Tutor is a Social Activist, Writer, Systems Analyst, and Nature Lover residing in Wild Wonderful West Virginia.
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