If It Ain’t Fixed, Break It

The regular extortion of neoliberalism, via the Sopranos

The great neoliberal idea is “if it ain’t fixed, break it.” They starve public services of resources, and then complain that they’re performing poorly. They point out corruption, and propose just giving everything to the rich people doing the corrupting. It’s the perfect crime, really. They break a bunch of windows and say “look at what a dump this place is, sell it to me for cheap.”

The economic truth is that it is much more efficient to run the most important services—like health, education, and transport—publicly. It’s much cheaper and less wasteful, not to mention the right thing. Public healthcare systems are far more efficient than wasteful, complicated private systems, not to mention the far fewer people suffering and dying. Overall public transport costs and emissions are much lower than everyone buying a fucking car, not to mention not choking your cities with traffic and parking.

The economic truth is that countries that actually developed—including in the West—did so through state-led industrialization, protection of vital industries and natural resources, government subsidies for agriculture, and direct government action on the economy. Development doesn’t just develop itself, once you add water and competition. That just makes you prey to the carrion crows of global capitalism, looking for weak dumbasses that lie there not doing anything.

A Tragic Example

As a tragic example, look at my country, Sri Lanka. We followed the western model of privatized transport, building roads, highways, and importing cars and fuel. We ignored and even privatized the public transport that most people depended on. We didn’t even build sidewalks for the people that walked. We gave a ton of money to foreign car companies and oil companies and construction companies, all while starving our own public services.

Now the foreign loans have dried up and our society has come to a complete halt. There’s no fuel for cars at all. We’re depending on the public transport that we neglected for so many years now.

We were also told for years that public universities were too expensive, too low quality, that we just couldn’t afford them. Instead, we sent millions of dollars out of the country for the rich to educate their children while the poor studied hard and got nowhere. Now we’ve run out of dollars and no one can get educated at all.

We were also told to integrate into the global economy immediately, and given loans to do so. We were told that we couldn’t possibly make things that were cheaper elsewhere, that we should just buy finished goods and export natural resources and cheap labor like a good colony.

The neoliberal logic is that you shouldn’t protect industries or have the state lead industrialization at all. Just have faith in the capitalist gods and it’ll magically happen. Well, it fucking doesn’t. Now we have neither the loans nor dollars to import foreign goods, nor the wherewithal to produce them for ourselves or export. Sri Lanka followed the logic of neoliberalism and it was all a lie. It’s all fallen apart.

What We Should Be Doing

The actual logic we and everyone should follow “if it’s broke, fix it.” That means funding public services more when they’re underperforming. Reforming them to make them more productive, not just smaller and weaker. That means nationalizing private companies as much (if not more) than doing privatizations. Note that the logic is not to never privatize. It’s to do so sparingly and strategically, not blindly and ideologically.

The logical fact is that if you want to improve life for the public you need to improve public services. If you want to reduce corruption look at the rich masters giving the bribes, not just the government servants taking them. And yet neoliberalism short-circuits all this plain logic with the obfuscation of “if it ain’t fixed, broke it.”

They get people complaining about how government services are slow and inefficient, and then use that as cover to make them even worse. Then when they get completely bad, they use it as a cover to break them up and buy them for cheap. They complain about corruption in the public sector, completely ignoring where the money comes from. Then the same people doing the corrupting get to buy the whole thing, again for cheap.

It’s a trick, and people fall for it, because it’s backed by corporate media, well-funded think tanks, and a bunch of bullshit numbers and outright lies repeated frequently. The unvarnished truth is that if you want things for your country you have to do them. If you want the most good for the most people, you have to work together. This is the definition of public services, people working together to improve their economies, not just hoping and wishing for rich people to do it for them.

The point is that if you’re not happy with public services, the solution isn’t to break them up and sell them to the rich, hoping for whatever scraps might trickle down from the new nobility. It’s to improve public services, and even take shit from the rich and run it more efficiently for the people.