THE BLOG

Privatizing the National Health Service and Education Are Acts of Vandalism

25/02/2013 11:45 GMT | Updated 24/04/2013 10:12 BST

What is it with neoliberal/neoconservative politicians? In their view of human nature and public ownership, privatization would magically improve everything. To them, evidence-based decision making is not necessary; they have an ideologically blind belief in the transformative power of markets. Their actions would be more convincing if they would occasionally come up with the solution to nationalize, but they never do.

The failure of the neoliberal economic model - selling state assets, cutting taxes for the rich, shrinking the welfare safety net, abandoning workers' rights - and the misery it has caused to countless millions has not dimmed their belief in the divinity of the market, not a bit of it. If anything, it seems to have galvanized them to push it into areas where in the past, rightly, governments did not dare go. The National Health Service is a case in point, and now education is to be given the same treatment.

Of course, private enterprise is the right mechanism to provide much of society's needs, and has worked well to provide good quality products at a reasonable price. I lived in Russia for a year in the early seventies when it was under Communism, and have seen the inadequacy of state run factories in providing the manufactured goods needed by the population, such as washing machines, electrical goods, cars etc. Even if you could afford to buy these products, and most people could not, you had to wait months, and when you finally got the product, you'd find the quality was very poor.

But even in these areas where private enterprise excels, governments have to enact appropriate laws and regulations to ensure corporations do not abuse their power. It is the very failure of the regulatory régime of the financial sector that has caused the economic meltdown. A balance of power between capital and labour, coupled with strong laws that protect human rights, are essential to protect workers from being abused in the pursuit of maximizing profits.

Additionally, laws are needed to prevent monopolistic takeovers, to ensure fair competition that drives quality, and to prevent the "too big to fail" syndrome that has plagued the financial system. One need only look at developing countries where unions are non-existent, governments rife with corruption, and there is no concept of human rights, to see the slavery-like conditions under which people work.

Competition and private enterprise are the right mechanisms in the manufacture of consumer goods, to drive up efficiency and keep prices down. But when such a model is applied to services that require the human touch, it will have the opposite effect. Health provision in the US illustrates the point, where more money per capita is spent than any other nation, and yet US life expectancy is 50th in the world, and it has a higher infant mortality rate than most industrialized nations.

What is going to happen to education if it is salami-sliced and privatized? We will end up with a two tier system where schools and services that provide easy profits are privatized, where the students could easily be drilled into passing exams and conforming to the ethos of corporations, while others are left to the government. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look, privatizers will say, how well private is doing compared to state-run. Are we going to end up with schoolchildren advertising the logos of companies on their shirts as footballers do?

At a time when we are most in need of innovators, thinkers and philosophers to rescue society from its obsession with unsustainable consumerism into a more fulfilling, happier existence, we are moving towards the straight-jacket of orthodoxy espoused by private enterprise in our schools.

Privatizing the National Health Service and education are acts of vandalism driven by ideological zeal and dogma; society will be the poorer for it.