PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP is a long-term arrangement between government and business, to provide key services or improve civic operational capacity in the most economical way. The concept borrows from the axiom that market forces are the best way to balance the highest quality for the most cost-effective price.
In recent years the public-private partnership model has been a magnet for financial sector heavyweights, lured by the prospects of large-scale profit guaranteed by government funding. Corporate power over government, focused by entrenched, super wealthy investors, has proliferated an effective method for subordinating government and public-private partnerships to crony-capitalist grift.
Big capital’s exploitation of public-private partnership has always been a necessary incentive – else why would business be interested at all – but as the model gets applied to essential public services and the government role shifts from regulation to allocation, the service inevitably degrades. Those who depend on it feel the consequences most e.g. the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged.
Lately, that traditional exploitation has ramped up to the next level. It’s no longer merely taking advantage of easy government contracts. Today, it has evolved into an organized program of wealth redistribution. Society is realigning its institutions and its social services to bleed the public through pricing monopoly and profligate use of tax revenues. It’s not only enriching the wealthy but creating an absolute division – growing ever wider -between rich and poor.
Public services provide for all citizens, but in the real world it’s the most financially disadvantaged who gain the most from state provision. It exists to help level the playing field, for the benefit of all. Coupled with progressive taxation that in principle it serves to trickle wealth gently down from rich to poor, the measures aim to find an equilibrium to keep society stable and dynamic.
If it’s honest, public-private partnership is potentially beneficial, dealing with the practicalities by using private enterprise to meet a needed service; a soft landing for public spending, as part of a bigger business picture. In an ideal version, it’s regulated by sound fiscal practices, balanced books, and subject to the best of market forces, honing the partnership’s activity so it’s efficient and competitive.
Besides the advantages of responsible business practices, public-private partnerships should be accountable to Government; and therefore, the electorate. Accountability to the voter-public means it must satisfy its intended social provision rather than maximizing shareholder profit. Being subject to civic authority means strategic planners can look further forward in time, when developing services, rather than being at the mercy of the next shareholder dividend.
Public-private partnership in its current corrupt form inverts the “for the people” government revenue paradigms. Instead of trying to provide a safety net and opportunities for upward mobility, the new objective appropriates taxpayer money into the hands of the wealthiest corporations (and their billionaire owners).
The corrupted public-private partnership model uses the same framework as the honest version, subtly altered into a mechanism for grift. It’s difficult to spot the corrupted from the authentic, from a distance.
Following the money is the only workable strategy for unearthing the details of the grift, and it’s not an impossible proposition. Much of the financial detail is public record.
The scale of current public-private partnership means it’s become an engine for massive legal wealth redistribution. Big picture, it’s an orchestrated assault on national resources, taking billions from the taxpaying public, laundering it through legitimate-looking government “investment”, to enrich the private wealth of business owners and corporations.
Public spending — taxpayer money, federal dollars — in the United States and United Kingdom is increasingly finding its way only into those public-private partnerships already subordinated to big capital.
Every national crisis becomes an opportunity for expanding the grift. Coronavirus policy, for instance, is only a failure if viewed through the lens of public good. It’s been an unmitigated success if you are part of the 1% as wealthy oligarchy becomes the ultimate beneficiary of “necessary” government investments. It’s a dream come true.
It’s necessary to manufacture some crises. Brexit is, in reality, an enormous deregulation scheme to liberate the British government from rules and legal constraints constraining free use (grift) of public funds. They had codified these regulations in the reciprocal treaties and agreements of the European Union. Brexit exits these treaties to give crony-capital in the United Kingdom the same free rein it enjoys in the United States.
Post-Brexit, the UK joins the USA in becoming a 21st-century smorgasbord of government grift opportunities. They can deregulate regulations. They can circumvent protections. They can bypass accountability. Capital transfer from public to private wealth is an established precedent but through new public-private partnerships this deregulated unprotected unaccountable model puts trillions of dollars into the hands of a small cabal of Neocon-Neoliberal backers.
The grift is happening before our eyes in 2020. Stimulus packages worth hundreds of billions, even trillions of dollars, have been passed by Congress. Ostensibly in response to economic impact of government-engineered lockdown, in reality these eye-watering sums fund the biggest public-private partnership investment in American history. Not only does this shovel tax dollars to the 1% but it incurs astronomical federal debt as it prints currency to keep the system liquid. Inflation may hurt the average American, but billionaire confederacy gets richer and richer.
Power dynamics inevitably define the relationship between citizen and state. Not all government must be an enemy to its own citizens. Authority need not always be abused. History teaches us, however, how difficult it is to keep the relationship in equilibrium. Capitalism may be the best and most dynamic engine for human prosperity, but it’s a hard system to keep in check.
If the state is in thrall to a billionaire class, it inevitably means citizen freedom (and future) becomes precarious. Citizens are at the mercy of authority and authority is serving the needs of big capital, not average citizens. The public becomes a resource to be exploited. This can’t end well for the individual American!
If the stranglehold big capital has on government power isn’t loosened — at the very least so oligarch corporations can’t perpetually enrich themselves relative to the shrinking financial resources of everyone else —there will be no freedom for anyone who’s not entrenched in the 1%.
Automation, surveillance, technology integrated to impose social regulation and, eventually, compulsory subordination to government authority, will inevitably converge on a dystopian future from which there will be no escape. Ever.