Friday, May 10, 2013

Private Sector v Government

I am a strong believer in free enterprise.  I would never universally condemn it, or even the huge corporate conglomerates which, I believe, sometimes have too great an influence on our way of life.  There is a popular belief among conservatives/Republicans that in all cases the private sector is much more efficient and produces better results than are accomplished by any form of government. Arguably this mindset has had a great influence on the current paralysis which afflicts our national government.  Too many adhere to the belief of Mr. Grover Norquist--who has extracted a promise from too many members of Congress never to vote for any type of increase in revenues--whose goal is to make national government so small it can be drowned in a bath tub.

There are glaring examples of the private sector not working as well as government’s efforts—even here in Texas.  A few years back, under the leadership of George W. Bush while he was governor, Texas attempted to privatize our human resource efforts by employing a private group to process the checks made to our elderly and disabled. The effort was launched with great expectations, even to the extent that numerous state employees were retired early or given incentives to quit their jobs, as they were being replaced by the new private sector effort. After a very short time, it became apparent the effort was a failure, resulting in a holy mess--which required the state to hire back most of the workers who had been encouraged to leave, and at even greater expense to the state.  That effort has since been aborted.

Another example of the great failure of the private sector lies in the deregulation of utility companies, particularly electric utility companies.  The problem is, the private sector works well where there is adequate competition to give consumers a free choice, and to encourage those who offer such goods or services to be efficient and provide the goods or service at the most reasonable competitive cost.  Unfortunately, supplying electrical power to Texas consumers is not one of those areas where competition works to serve consumers well.

Look in the phone book.  See if you can find a group of numbers in the Yellow Pages to call for electric service to your home. Never mind! You won’t find it. The Legislature was persuaded by the multitude of lobbyists for the big power companies to deregulate power. It took cities and city governments, and thereby the consumers, out of the loop of control of what we all were paying for.  The Legislature said they did it because that is what the people wanted. Unfortunately, ordinary folks testifying in fav or of such deregulation were seldom found in the halls of the Capitol speaking for deregulation of the giant power utilities.  It was mainly shiny-shod lobbyists and special interest groups who lobbied through the measure, promising Texans that the competition for customers of electric power would more than protect consumers and assure them of constant and uninterrupted service at the very lowest cost.

Texas consumers--you and I--were sold a bill of goods. Deregulation of electrical power has resulted in an average of almost a 50% increase in cost for electricity. Our grid system is no more reliable now than it was in 2002, and not likely to improve in the foreseeable future. And most certainly, we are not assured of any decrease in our electric bills in the near future. 

With these two examples firmly in mind, we should take great care to inform our state representatives and senators of our attitude the next time someone comes along and promises us great results by taking government out of the loop to protect us, the consumers of this state.

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