Monday, July 13, 2015

The "Free Market" – once again.

Congress seems poised to turn its back on the "No Child Left Behind" educational nightmare. But many of the supporters of this shift of direction in educational policy are not particularly interested in providing a good education for our children. They are interested in states rights. They distrust the federal government. They are worshipers in the church of the Free Market.
The belief in the blessings of the free market are indeed a religion-- facts have nothing to do with it. It is all a matter of faith.
But we live in the real world where facts are available; we should certainly not ignore them. Indifference to actual events regularly leads to disaster. If a truck is bearing down on you, you'd better run. If your house is on fire, you'd better leave. If your bank account is empty, you'd better not write checks.
Hence it is important, from time to time, to look at the reality of the free market. A couple of examples of the gross malfunction of the free market have come to my attention and I want to share them.
Both of them have to do with the privatization of law enforcement. It is a well-known fact that many prisons in the United States are run by private companies. The two largest ones are Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO. It is also well-known that "private prison companies have indirectly supported policies that put more Americans and immigrants behind bars – such as California's three strikes rule and Arizona has highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law." (Washington Post April 28, 2015)
It is less well known that private prison corporations house almost half of the immigrants arrested as undocumented. Some immigrants who have been held in these private detention facilities have recently sued GEO, the company that owned a facility outside Denver, for being made to do janitorial work in the facility for one dollar a day. The company makes a huge profit by forcing inmates to do their own maintenance and paying them a pittance.
People in detention have not had a trial. Some of them are being detained without justification. One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit agaainst GEO was, in fact, a legal resident of the United States. He suddenly found himself being practically enslaved, having to work for next to no pay cleaning toilets and washing floors. That clearly violates the most basic standards of how residents of the United States should be treated. Even if it turns out that the persons detained do not have the requisite documents, they still should not be subject to forced unpaid labor before they have had a trial and have been sentenced.
Our cash strapped cities could significantly improve their bottom line, if police would go around arresting citizens who, while detained, were forced to work for nothing, for instance cleaning streets, hauling garbage, and doing other undesirable work for practically no pay. There would be a major uproar if we did this to citizens. The fact that this is being done to people, accused of being illegal immigrants, does not make it any less outrageous.
The private companies, the "free market", in this case clearly violate basic human rights. That's hardly a blessing.
Another example of the failure of privatization: some municipalities in Alabama and elsewhere have farmed out their collection of traffic fines to a private collection company, Judicial Corrections Services. This company collects payments on traffic fines and every time they get a payment they collect an additional $40 fee from the person paying.
The victims of this scam had been in court and the judge imposed a fine on them. But the $40 fee is charged on top of the fine imposed by the court. It has no legal justiification.
This particular arrangement disproportionately burdens poor people who are unable to pay large fines at one time and therefore have to pay their fines in installments. JCS adds their $40 fee to every installment paid.
The government establishes certain rules, such as traffic and parking rules, and attaches a schedule of punishments for violators. It is essential that government be impartial, that no private party profit from government actions. Where that impartiality is violated and government action brings profit to private individuals, we speak of corruption. Where ever private parties enrich themselves by using the power of government they are corrupting those powers.
For-profit companies collecting fees for fulfilling government functions are one more example of clear corruption. It is no different from the policeman who accepts a bribe for not writing a ticket, or the government bureaucrat who needs to get paid under the table in order to process a form.
The blessing of the free market, in this instance, is in fact the corruption of our government. Justice falls victim to private enrichment.