Sunday, 19 June 2011

The attack on the public sector [continued]

PeterGuillam 15 June 2011 8:59PM

responding to article in The Guardian by Zoe Williams

Very good piece. In particular this idea that the public sector is an unproductive parasite upon the private sector has become a pervasive right-wing meme. It is manifest nonsense. Say that a baby is born to a single mother in an NHS hospital and goes on to become a successful entrepreneur. According to proponents of the 'parasite' view, the NHS hospital is 'unproductive' but the resulting entrepreneur is not. On the other hand, on that view, if the baby were born in a private hospital staffed by the same people as the NHS hospital but working overtime then they would somehow be 'productive' even if the child turned out to be a benefit-scrounging career criminal. That's clearly nonsense. The same argument can be made for the public sector people who educate the fledgling entrepreneur, the police and armed forces that provide his security, perhaps the children's home that brings him up if the mother gives him up - or the benefits that pay her if she does not - or the social work department that places him with adoptive parents.

The more general point, leaving aside this stylized example, is that the web of connections between the public and private is so dense and complex that trying to imagine that 'first' there is the private sector and 'then' there is the public sector in parasitic relation is a classic 'chicken and egg'. The relations between the two are symbiotic, not parasitic. And that isn't just a matter of logic but of history in that the inter-relationship between the state and the economy is absolutely irreducible to the priority of one or the other. Indeed current public spending cuts have made it abundantly clear how inseparable public and private are.

The argument that the public sector is unproductive is absurd. It is simply an ideological smokescreen put up by free-market ideologues and their camp-followers. Its plutocratic beneficiaries laugh with delight at the sight of us squabbling over the 'affordability' of a few crumbs (albeit crumbs that make a difference between degrading poverty and a degree of security) even as they gorge themselves on the loaf.

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