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ETpro's avatar

Isn't this a perfect example of why some things need to be done by government, not for-profit industry?

Asked by ETpro (34425points) August 12th, 2011

Lately, there has been a rush in Red states, cities and counties to “save money” by privatizing the prison industry. A Pennsylvania Judge just got 28 years in prison and a $1.2 million fine for a ’‘kids for cash’’ scheme where for-profit prisons paid him by the head and who cared whether the kids were innocent or guilty.

Corporations are not inherently evil, nor are they inherently good. They are amoral. They run by one simple rule—maximize profits. Any top executive who fails to maximize profits is fired, and replaced by one who will.

How does a for-profit prison maximize profits when they only make so much per body housed? Marketing. Make more things crimes. Bribe judges to throw the book at people, innocent or not. Lobby lawmakers to criminalize more and more things. Follow China’s lead. Make political activity a crime. Sell body parts taken by force from “criminals” who happen to sympathize with the party that’s not currently in power. Jailing the opposition party helps vastly in reelection as well.

How about privatizing police and fire protection? Got an emergency? Well, depending on how serious it is, they’ll decide how much helping you is going to cost you. A simple situation might just be $50 but something life threatening would run you $10,000 cash. Pay in advance or no help. House on fire? Gee, the place is worth $350,000. You want it saved? It’s going to cost you half of that. Pay up or burn up. It’s your choice.

How about we privatize the military and let Erik Prince of Blackwater “protect” the USA. Think how much we could save. Think what he might do to maximize profit when he had all the firepower needed to take anything he wanted.

How did we ever get to such inanity as for-profit prisons and privatized education? How long after we privatize public education with a voucher system before elite schools emerge that only the rich can afford, and the vast majority of the public can only get the most rudimentary education suitable to prepare them for a life of indentured servitude?

Deregulate all business and corporations will save us from the evils of government? How can we think that the two massive savings and loan bailouts of the 1980s never happened? How can we think that Michael Milliken never went to prison for his junk bond scams? Did Enron never run a shell-game scam? Was Countrywide not actually run as an investment Ponzi scheme? Were Adelphia, WorldCom, and Bernie Madoff, all just lies made up by the liberal mainstream media? Halliburton didn’t squander billions on no bid contracts and build such shoddy facilities in Iraq that US soldiers were electrocuted while trying to take a shower?

And the robber barons and vast trusts of the late 1800s never happened—or corporate leaders wouldn’t do that again if laws preventing it are removed? Oh, and there was never a financial crisis of 2007 where deliberately shaky home loans were repacked ed into 130 trillion worth of derivatives that were created by, insured by and rated AAA by the same banksters to transfer trillions out of the US economy and into the hands of a select few who never even got charged with a crime?

How much reality does it take to break through right-wing ideology? Is it even possible?

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42 Answers

LuckyGuy's avatar

Exactly. That story made me sick. He was sending kids away for small offenses so he could get a kickback. $1 million! Or imagine what would happen if hospitals worked that way and were set u to maximize profit. They would charge $400 for a simple emergency room visit and $30 for a bandage and… Oh… Wait… That’s what’s happening today.

tom_g's avatar

Great question. Seriously.
@ETpro: “How much reality does it take to break through right-wing ideology?”

I used to believe that it was merely the mass media (see Herman/Chomsky’s propaganda model) that was keeping this whole thing together. Today, however, with information available to anyone, I have given up hope to some degree. I don’t think it’s just the misinformation. I think it might just be some combination of mental deficiency, laziness, and bad values.

I’ll go cry now….

Jaxk's avatar

What a rude awakening. I guess communism really is the way to go.

tom_g's avatar

@Jaxk – Exactly. Straw man right up top of this thread. Didn’t take long.

Jaxk's avatar

But wait, Isn’t that Judge a government guy? No matter, we all know there is no curruption in government.

tom_g's avatar

@Jaxk – Straw man #2. Well played.

Cruiser's avatar

@ETpro Straw man argument here. Presenting the other side of the equation….these so call leaders…the elected official we trust to not only manage our government but the comings and goings of these so called “evil” corporations doing business in their states.

Take a long hard list of elected officials convicted of crimes not only similar to the ones you list by these corporations but become all the more heinous because they did it while serving in our government and working the system for their own selfish greedy gain! You expect corporate leaders to get greedy…that is what they do. But you don’t expect politicians you trusted with your vote to take from the country they serve. Sore subject for me as 4 of our last 6 Illinois Governors have been convicted. Our current Governor should be convicted of sheer stupidity as he has driven our state into near bankruptcy as I heard on the radio yesterday we can no longer afford to bury the poor and indigent who die in our state. HS!!

Jaxk's avatar

As pointed out above, not all government officials are sqeaky clean.

Jaxk's avatar

Prosecutors are incented to convict and gain long prison sentences. It enhances thier resume and furthers thier careers. There is little downside to prosecutorial misconduct.

tom_g's avatar

@Cruiser: “But you don’t expect politicians you trusted with your vote to take from the country they serve.” I agree. Governments are to some degree accountable. Are you saying that we expect corporations to act in the interest of profit only, but wish our elected officials acted differently? In what ways do deregulation and privatization increase accountability and the public good?

tom_g's avatar

And in case you didn’t get my sarcasm, @Jaxk, you should really evaluate your 2 posts that were good cases of straw men:

>“I guess communism really is the way to go.”
I can’t find anyone advocating communism here.

>“But wait, Isn’t that Judge a government guy? No matter, we all know there is no curruption in government.”
I can’t find anyone arguing that there is no corruption in government.

flutherother's avatar

We need more privatisation not less. We should privatise the entire government and let whichever company can do it cheapest run the whole caboodle for the next four years. A corporation like Google, or Exxon would make everything run more efficiently and would revolutionise how our society is organised to the point where no citizen will ever again need to know what the hell is going on.

Cruiser's avatar

@tom_g You really lost me on your points and your question. I would like to ask what you meant with…
“Governments are to some degree accountable.”
“some degree” I hope you are not serious! I take umbrage when I hear this as it is IMO reflective of a growing apathy in our country and the number one reason we now have a Tea Party is because we need to hold each and every elected official fully accountable for every last dime we entrust them with.

As far as accountability it is our dollars we spend that is the way we hold corporations accountable. Vote with your dollars and don’t buy from the companies that send jobs overseas, don’t buy from the companies that support the politicians who are doing a shitty job. Vote with that dollar and don’t buy from the companies that rake in profits, pay ginormous salaries…but if you do remember those corporations employ people….LOTS of people and if they don’t make profits those jobs go away. And if we over tax companies big and small more jobs will disappear. That is a big part of the reason we don’t see job growth right now is because of the uncertainty over the “will he or won’t he” raise taxes.

tom_g's avatar

@Cruiser – You got it right. I was trying to figure out in what possible way corporate power was accountable. You answered the question: by withholding our dollars.

So, if we have 4 oil companies serving up gas to the consumers in the US, and they all happen to be engaging in awful practices, I should….stop driving?
If we have 3 internet providers in this country and all of them decide to censor content, how do I affect change with my dollars? Corporations don’t even pretend to be democratic. At least governments do.

What if my family is starving and I decide to take a job working for 12 hours per day in a factory with no regulations or benefits? Is it unreasonable to assume that there won’t be thousands of other people who will be willing to do this for their family? Is your answer that the power of the dollar will correct this because people won’t support this company? Is this how it works right now? Are we all aware of the kids working overseas in substandard conditions to get us cheap goods? Does it affect our shopping habits? What types of “regulations” would be in place so that the public could make ethical shopping choices?

Has consumer-led corporate responsibility been the driving factor in any of the progress we have seen concerning workplace safety, childhood labor, environmental destruction, etc?

“And if we over tax companies big and small more jobs will disappear. That is a big part of the reason we don’t see job growth right now is because of the uncertainty over the “will he or won’t he” raise taxes.”

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. So, tax rates are at historic lows and profits are huge. There is no job growth. If tax rates inched up a bit, more companies would go overseas? That’s a symptom of a fucked-up economic system. I want to provide more power and deregulation to these non-democratic institutions?

Jaxk's avatar


I think it is your own strawman that is deficient. Privitaztion does not mean there are no laws or regulation. In fact privitaztion provides more personal accountability than government. In most cases government officials are immune from lawsuits. The judges, prosecutors, jailers, etc. aren’t held persoanlly accountable by those that are damaged. It is rather the government that must prosecute for criminal activities. Private industry carries no such immunity.

The question here implies ever increasing nationalization of industry. A bad idea at it’s heart. The more government controls the more corruption and the less oversight. Communism is the eventual end on that road.

Let government stick to oversight and private industry handle the business.

And just for your information, tax rates are not at historic lows.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I don’t tust the government as far as I could throw then, and I’d LOVE to throw them all into the Laurenthian Abyssal and drop a mountian on top to ensure they couldn’t escape! : )

peridot's avatar

How did we ever get to such inanity as for-profit prisons and privatized education?
Easy. Society is set up—whether or not by design—to reward greed. To feed that insatiable beast, you have to keep coming up with ways to first cut a profit, then continually increase that profit. Eventually you end up with entities (corporations and individuals) who hoot and yodel about morality one moment and do what they have to do to make more money the next.

Selling healthcare, justice, and other supposedly unassailable “assets” to the highest bidder? Already been done. I keep waiting for air to be privatized.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Jaxk Did I read that right, you’re now counting on goverment to prosecute if private institutions did something wrong? That is not big government now is it? : )

Jaxk's avatar


I’m not sure what your point is since that is what government has always done. They pass the laws and prosecute when they’re broken. You don’t need a $3.7 trillion government to do that.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Jaxk And it will be broken. And then it will be regulated and so on and so forth. Too cynical?

Zaku's avatar

Yes, it is a very good example, and it is already very broken, with “correctional” corporations having a complete counter-incentive to ever letting people out.

If those corporations were forced to have serious charters where they had benevolent purposes rather than profit-mongering, then it might be ok.

As for not trusting the government either, well healthy skepticism of government is good, and they ought to be kept in check too. But I trust the government more than I trust a for-profit corporation.

linguaphile's avatar

Not all corporates are just corporates… many of them have their own private agenda on top of the profit making agenda.
This article is extremely upsetting for me and is my only answer to “why prisons should not be privatized.”

bkcunningham's avatar

@ETpro, I’m confused about something you said regarding, ”...(how) a for-profit prison maximize profits when they only make so much per body housed? Marketing. Make more things crimes…” Beyond the “per body housed” contract the company makes with the jurisdiction to house the inmates, you do realize there is much more to running a business, right?

incendiary_dan's avatar

Incarcerations have increased only as prison construction has, regardless of actual crime rates (usually when crime rates are actually lowering). To throw a question into the mix: do we need the prison-industrial complex? Can we handle criminal behavior in another way?

Jaxk's avatar


Was it better when it was the ‘Bloodiest Prison in the Country’? If you go back and look at prison history, we have a pretty poor record for state and federal prison abuse. Our problem with long prison sentences is not whether the prison is public or privately run but rather our penchant for long prison terms, primarily as a result of overambitous prosecutors. Not to mention laws like 3 strikes, and mandatory sentencing. Our blood thirsty cries for prison sentences even when no laws were broken. We have more people in prison than any country in the world and we keep them in there longer. That’s not a result of privitization.

We have major problems in our legal system but trying to blame private industry for them is severly missing the point.

linguaphile's avatar

@Jaxk OK I’ll concede that privatization is not all evil, but is replacing one corrupt system with another the answer? I agree we need sweeping reforms, a more balanced penal/justice system and better legal defense for many people, but what is going on in Angola isn’t the answer either.

Jaxk's avatar


I assume your problem with Angola is the religion part. And I’ll admit I don’t see that as a major concern when comparing it to other prison abuses. And maybe that’s my problem, I’m comparing the worst of many evils.

linguaphile's avatar

@Jaxk Close but no cigar. The religion part, yes, but if the Warden was rewarding the prisoners for becoming atheists, Republicans, Communists, or Spaghetti Monster worshippers, I’d still disagree. Forcing people to conform to one belief system for reward, and punishing nonbelievers… it’s just very wrong for me.
I like the system used at the prison near where I work. Prison jobs are given an established hierarchy with the best jobs coming with a window, longer meals, more free time, but the job must be done at highest quality or the prisoner’s fired. The prisoners work their way up through the ranks and receive rewards for their work—I like that better. Work = reward, not belief = reward.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Contrary to what O-ding-a-ling would have you believe, government is the PROBLEM, not the answer!

ETpro's avatar

@worriedguy Thanks for your answer. The hospital example is a perfect proof of concept. How much would you pay to not die today? Funny, that’s exactly what it costs.

@tom_g Don’t shed too many tears. I think this insanity has nearly run its course, just as the far left-wing insanity of the 1960s did. Most Americans aren’t supportive of extremism and absolutism of any kind.

@Jaxk Communism is straw man number one. I forcefully denounced it in the question details. Did you not read them?

Straw man number two is “Government guys are all honest.” Look up the word corporatism if you don’t know what it means. Or again, did you just neglect to read the question details and instead consult some right-wing source for a legion of straw men to derail discussion of any real issue at hand?

@cruiser I maintain no illusion that government officials are saints. I can cite a long and sordid list of corrupt ones, just as I can a list of corrupt corporations and corporate officers. The problem is not that government is inherently evil and it is not that corporations are inherently evil. The problem is that some humans are evil, or corruptible. And they can do damage in government or in industry. That is why Reagan’s lie, “Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.” is a big fascist lie. A balance of power between both is best. The worst possible government comes from corporatist fascism where government and big corporations merge their power and bend it toward lining their own pockets and eliminating any opposition. That is what we had in Nazi Germany. And how any rational American can think tat emulating fascism is a great idea after WWII is a mystery to me. I guess it shows how little we as a people pay attention to history.

To that. I second @tom_g‘s amswer here.

@flutherother I take your sarcasm. GA. I keep suggesting to those who feel gubment is the problem that they get themselves to Somalia, because they’ve gotten rid of all gubment there and privatized everything. I guess I’m just not persuasive enough about the wonders of living free of all gubment. I go over to Logan, and there is nobody boarding flights to Mogadishu. :-)

@Jaxk There are definitely things private industry handles much better than government. Building cars. Inventing iPads, etc. I own a business. I am not in any way anti business. But there are things that should never be privatized as well. Defense is number one. Fire protection is another great example. Imagine if a major city privatized fire protection. Each property owner would have to contract with a private, for-profit fire company to keep their property safe. Some property owners would act responsibly, but many would cut corners. They would avoid the cost or contract with a Chinese company that quoted them a price near zero. Then when their property caught fire, many city blocks would burn down before we reached a perimeter where all the property owners had acted responsibly. In fact, we might well find no such perimeter, and the whole city might go up in a firestorm like the one that consumed Dresden in WWII. If we’d waited for private industry to build the Interstate Highway System, we wouldn’t have one today and America would be among third world nations for the lack of it. We’d have expensive toll roads going between extremely high traffic corridors only. We would never have had NASA, and thus we would never have had the computer revilution anf the trillions of dollars it’s poured into our economy.

@CaptainHarley Here’s a list of failed states. If you really think living without any government is paradise, they are all there waiting for you. No visa required. There’s no evil gubment there to issue visas or check them. What’s keeping you from moving to paradise?

@peridot Great answer. I don’t know ehat I can add to that. That’s why we need a balance of power. All power in government or in corporate trusts is terrible.

I’d love to carry on, and will toimorrow, but the hour is late.

Cruiser's avatar

@tom_g The biggest problem we face is we keep look back over our shoulder for answers to todays problems. What I see many people failing to take into consideration is we are no longer the only game in town as foreign competition has eroded American industries ability to produce competitive goods and services and simply buying American is not as easy a solution as it sounds as most average Americans are cash strapped and are shopping a Wal Mart plucking up cheap foreign products. We have to face facts as we now live in a truly global economy like never before and we have to get creative, take action and innovate as a country like we did when we were the leaders of the tech revolution.

Problem is we have leadership now that is anything but focused on creating opportunity for innovation and creativity which would simply require grants and tax breaks to the companies that are willing, able and capable of creating goods and services that will be on par with lower priced goods and services provided over seas. These tax breaks and grants do cost the Government big time and that will demand of our leadership to make the necessary adjustments in how our Government is run. Trimming the fat in Washington to fund what is needed to make innovation and job growth happen IMO is the only way out.

Jaxk's avatar


You love to come with an example and then make a global assessment based on it. Much as you have done with this question. So let me respond in kind. Your fire department example doesn’t work based on this report since the government seems to operate exactly the same way you see it working in your example. The biggest difference would be that ‘Private Enterprise would likely have responded for the fee that the homeowner offered.

The guy didn’t pay the additional tax and the fire department let his home burn down. Even went so far as to spray water when it went over the fence line but not onto the burning home. That’s government in action. I love it.

Got another cutesy quip you can throw at me?

CaptainHarley's avatar


Who said anything about “living without a government?” There are certain tasks that it’s appropriate, and indeed necessary, for government to do. It’s just that the list is a LOT shorter than the Statists would have you believe.

tom_g's avatar

Some of my specific questions have gone unanswered.

@Cruiser – It sounds like we are in agreement more than I thought based on your last post. As soon as I saw, “innovate as a country like we did when we were the leaders of the tech revolution”, I thought “is he kidding? He’s really going to take government funded science and tech R&D and turn it into a success story of the ‘free market’?!” But then you go on to acknowledge the role of government funding.

I think reasonable people can talk about “trimming the fat” without breaking into the reflexive “government is bad” shtick. I’m sure there are plenty of places where we can agree that the fat must go. I’m also sure that there would disagreements about what constitutes “fat”.

To sum it up, when I look at the government, I find it to be fat in all the wrong places. I’d like to remove the fupa and kankles and put it into some nice curves and breasts. It’s ugly as fuck right now, but I love me some healthy fat.

ETpro's avatar

@Cruiser You said here, “I don’t tust the government as far as I could throw then, and I’d LOVE to throw them all into the Laurenthian Abyssal and drop a mountian on top to ensure they couldn’t escape! ” I don’t read that as an endorsement of reasonable government, but as a call for complete anarchy. If you instead argue that government can and does overreach and needs to be kept out of certain areas of American life, I am in complete agreement with that. But that isn’t what your post quoted here said.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@ETpro The current circumstances in Somalia have everything to do with the colonial-style intervention of both governments and corporations, not simply the uber-privatization. Namely, the meddling of foreign governments to facilitate what the corporations are doing. Above you mention the dangers of the collaboration between the two, as per the quote popularly attributed to Mussolini: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, as it is the merger of state and corporate power.” But then you also suggest that it’s the balance between the two that keeps them in check.

What, if anything, is the difference between a government-corporate complex and a balanced relationship?

CaptainHarley's avatar


Actually, it was me who said that. What? You never heard of hypberbola??

ETpro's avatar

@incendiary_dan You[‘re probably right, but I can’t think of a single case of a failed state that isn’t a basket case. In fact, being a failed state in this world of greedy nations almost assures your land will be raped and pillaged by just such forces. The “No true Scotsman” argument, while sometimes true, is also a well-known logical fallacy. As such, it is, in the absence of other evidence that your policy ideas would be an improvement, a very poor one to raise when suggesting we should undo virtually all the institutions that make current society work, and adopt instead something that has never been proven to work in today’s world.

@CaptainHarleyOf course I have heard of hyperbole and I sometimes use it. But it’s easy to read a post, particularly a short one with no clues it is intended as humor, and take it as literal.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@ETpro Psst. I haven’t suggested anything. What are you talking about re: my “policy ideas”?

CaptainHarley's avatar

Hyperbole is not humor. It is overstatement of a position to add emphasis.

From Wikipedia: “Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally.”

Cruiser's avatar

@ETpro and @tom_g to further qualify my views on the government just so you get a better feel for where my heart and head lies in this debate is I do respect the role and need for a Government to provide a safe and supportive country for ALL it’s citizens but m comments concerning the Government over the last year till now are specifically targeted to an oversized, bloated ineffective Governement that is sucking up our tax revenue and managing it very poorly. My biggest gripe is I know I have had to make adjustments in my spending habits in response to a rising cost of living without the benefit of a rise in income. If I can do this as well as the millions of other Americans who have had to make similar adjustments in spending habits and add in the people who have lost jobs or are under employed who have had to make radical changes in lifestyle….why the hell can’t our Government do the same?? When are the fat cats in Washington going to roll up their sleeves and make the budget cuts that are needed to reflect the reduction in tax revenue collected AND to pay down the debt we have racked up?? What I still see NOT happening makes me see red and I am letting my Senators, Congressmen and Governor know just how not pleased I am with what is NOT going on.

ETpro's avatar

It’s too late to think. I will reply tomorrow.

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