“Alert! Privatization of America's Public Institutions”: A Remarkable Study of Selling Out”
by Professor Tom Gage, Emeritus Professor, Humboldt State University
Lawrence Baines is a rare voice with a big book. I have followed the publications of this remarkable thinker since reading his "A Future of Fewer Words?" In the March of the same year that I published an Apple i-Book, the Futurist Magazine published Baines’s essay. Though I was intrigued with the logic, I resisted his prescience, for the hope that digitization will further civility, of a more hybridized common ground. Baines's essay argued that digitization will result in images subordinating words, with loss of deep thinking. It is a clear critique that backgrounded cacophonous trendings. As our culture devolved into a carnivalesque stage of American history, I often reread, to pass to others Baines’s foreknowledge, a foreknowledge questioning the promises that technologies’ entail many ameliorative solutions.
In Privatization of America's Public Institutions, Lawrence Baines explains how American institutions are selling out. These formerly the pride for sustaining civilization, are surrendering to market forces. One might consider Baines's work as a most critical elaboration of what the Princeton economist William J. Baumol discusses in Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper, and Health Care Doesn't. Baumol cites economies of the U.S. as ”A” and “B"; "A" provides those products and services for which automation affords abundant sales, which benefit the public with lower consumer costs. Economy"B," ranges from repair tinkers, hairdressers, artists, and libraries, with workers who aren't as successful in using technologies as their counterparts in “A,” for lack of algorithm to increase the number of cases or products per hour per day. Nevertheless, according to Baumol, both political parties demonize the inefficiencies of economy "B," as if hospitals be damned because a doctor's treatment for one’s ailment can't fit any algorithm that scales the lessening of pain or disease. However, it is economy “A” that floods a market with affordable i-Phones and “take-offs,” but also that provides inexpensive AK-47 Kalashnikovs to flood markets. Elsewhere among 3rd-World countries those who before used spears and swords may now purchase semi-automatic kill power for the cost of a chicken. The results of such availability flood hospital Emergency Rooms with weekend patients. It is economy “B,” of schools and libraries to housels citizen philosophers, to acquire understanding the consequences of out modern toxicity.
Salman Rushdie's recent novel Don Quichotte satirizes aptly this carnivalesque present, of drug escapism and violence. The truth of Rushdie’s fiction superordinates the scholarship of voices, left and right. With the present erosion of public funding, language on the airwaves chants to promote privatized schools and the Blackwater-like mercenaries, under the theological aegis of capitalism’s “Invisible Hand.”
Privatization has rendered what conservative critic Charles Murray claims in the book Coming Apart.Baines better analyzes what Murray describes as how the “sellout” is increasingly beneficial for a decreasing percentage of the population, with the loss and potential ruin of once the most admirable institutions: education, the military, and the penal system. A private American contractor earns so much more than his “colleague” the Marine serving alongside in Kabul; such asymmetry can only foster a cynicism, with surcease from drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
Take another study of how higher education is selling out to treat its cost disease, which Baines did not include. Marion Nestle in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat reports on how public universities provide research findings to whitewash unhealthy food consumption. Private agribusiness, with candy companies, pay for findings, like “Mars Bars are good for you!” Like Marion Nestle’s life’s work, Baumol’s data collection goes back longitudinally to the 1970s, in Princeton’s scholar’s analysis of the “costs disease.” Theater ticket-costs was a harbinger that augured amplification with hospitals, libraries, and universities, all selling out in desperation for coin.
In light of Privatization of America's Public Institutions, Baines’s earlier study alerts how the digitized Internet causes the loss of languages, as well as words. A neo-liberal global economy has not evolved toward a hybridizing of ethnicities in the interests of the commonweal, of some new World Order. It has led to globalization of disenfranchised identities, along with their communities. Parochial resistances, resembling 1930s fascism, of violence and addictions, are contra-valences to a furthering of solidarity of an E.U., a United States, or the U.N.s Alliance of Civilizations. I’m afraid, Baines has it right, his recent book warrants close scrutiny, on a planet suffering increasingly from a species of Dinosaur II .
The selling out of public schooling in the U.S., its penal institutions, and the military hasten ancillary aspects of society and the self. Increasingly, the Internet appears to rule all, with Silicon Valley usurping the academic world, as the quickest font of knowledge, or answers. Online-study purports a “quick easy,” with fewer and fewer of citizens rich enough to afford the costs of needed services, of hospitals or private universities. Big Data benefits marketeers and those promotional nudgers who bleep incessantly about deals and issues it knows we want to hear. Digitization sidelines our concentration and impedes deep thinking, the praxis of ethical standards, and the previous enriching interiority and autonomy of self, earned from deep silent reading.
The needed money to sustain past excellence has forced the military, the criminal justice system, and elementary, secondary, and higher education to sponge money from whomever pays. These, too often, support for self-interest in order to acquire private wealth and are contemptuous of public need: "Don't Ask What You Can Do for Your Country, rather Ask What your Country can do for You." America is the one country that should Ask what You Can Do for the World, at its most crucial pivotal time in History.
Goethe observed that those who are ignorant of 3000 years of civilization live from hand to mouth. Breaking News and flashing images have brought us to what Norman Mailer aptly asserted: that Americans will not tolerate answers to questions that take more than 14-seconds to answer. Baines's essay, a bit more than 150 pages, warrants the time to read.