Shh! You know what? There’s been this project in the works for a long time. It was ambitious as hell. The idea was to take everything we as a society had hammered out that made us prosperous as a people, and chip away at it until it was gone, until everything we held in common for the common good was hoovered into the private treasuries of a small number of people. Obviously that’s not the kind of thing you’re going to talk people into. They’re much better off with their Social Security, their Medicare, their free educational system, their relatively petite police forces, their clean water and safe food, their pensions and benefits. Lord knows all of those things could be made even better, certainly starting with our crazy-expensive system of health care through private insurance, but still your average American wasn’t interested in losing what we already had just to feed the insatiable greed of a few.
Starts With Devo
So the project didn’t really get off the ground for the first few decades, but finally got rolling under Ronald Reagan. There’d been a worldwide energy crisis that provided him and his backers an opportunity. A good crisis should never go to waste. He recast the labor unions that supported the middle class as thieves and heavies, and suggested that we could do much better as individuals if we weren’t carrying all that dead weight. And he helped create a new financial sector we could gamble in, using some of the money that used to go to our pensions. We could all hit the big-time, because we’re so smart. And he read us new bedtime stories: how the government stood in the way of prosperity, and couldn’t do anything efficiently. And how the new financial sector and corporations that sucked up all our old pension money would grow ever stronger and create ever more jobs once they were free of oversight and regulation. The Engine of Growth would lift all boats.
That was such a compelling con job that people didn’t even notice that the corporations in all their efficiency bought each other out and killed or sold off solid industries and went overseas where slave labor was more abundant and environmental restrictions less onerous, leaving entire American towns in the dust. Or that mergers created billionaires at the expense of our living wages. We didn’t notice we were losing ground every day. The idea that we individuals were so smart we could get rich on our own–an idea repackaged as “freedom”–was too seductive to abandon, even as we slid down the economic ladder, even as many of us tumbled into homelessness and poverty.
They took our public wealth from us. They privatized our public prisons and rigged the justice system to ensure there would be plenty of incarcerated bodies to profit off of–even to the extent of extracting unpaid labor from them; even to the extent of harvesting migrant children to detain at the cost of $750 per day, per child–our money, streaming straight into the pockets of private prison contractors.
They take our vital water utilities for profit. They run our wars for profit. They create our wars for profit.
It’s been a hell of a successful fire sale of the commons, but there is nervousness now amongst the moneyed elites: their peculiar, stammering cartoon character of a figurehead is losing his shine, especially during a crisis that shows exactly what government of the people and for the people should be doing. But their project isn’t done yet. They still haven’t bought up all our public schools. Time’s a-wastin’.
And that is how we must frame the latest edict from our Secretary of Education, a filthy-rich woman who has never been in a public school, never been an educator, whose family profits from privatization, and who was given the Cabinet job vowing to dismantle the system of free education in this country. She wants all the kids back in the classroom. (Who doesn’t?) She declares it safe, or safe enough. And she says if schools decide on their own not to reopen, they should not receive federal funds. And those funds should instead be given to the parents as vouchers. So they can send their children to private schools, preferably Christian.
Betsy Devos. She’s just one more poisoned arrow in their quiver, aimed at the heart of us.
It’s the libertarian edict. Never let a good crisis go to waste. You can always make money off it. Always.