the “google test”

A recent  Times review of potential GOP candidates for presidency criticized Tim Pawlenty for having too dull of a campaign – that is to be read  “too serious of a campaign” . It seems that being all about numbers and facts is not likely to give you a leading edge among right-wing conservatives, especially when your competitors are making outrageous enough statements to have the media simmer over them for weeks.

This is why Tim Pawlenty decided to go off the factual track during his last campaign speech and proposed that we use the “Google Test” as the Ockham’s razor for government services.  Beyond the fact that he uttered the suggestion on Obama’s turf and that just by using the term “Google” he made a  sleek SEO move , this is what he proposed (in a nutshell):

 “If you can find a service or good available on Google or the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it,” said Mr. Pawlenty, speaking at the University of Chicago. “The post office, the Government Printing Office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, were all built for a time in our country when the private sector did not adequately provide those products. But that’s no longer the case.”

                                                Read more in the June 7/2011 Christian Monitor

 

Now, we do not assume that Mr, Pawlenty is serious about privatizing the USPS. He wanted to make a point and he did make a point all right, but he is no less in the wrong than if he’d really suggested the privatization of Sallie Mae.

There is a reason why some services are public and some services are not. I for one do not argue against the fact that private services are oriented towards profit more than anything else. In fact I believe that the goal of private services is to be profitable. And this is why the interests of a private business, corporation etc. offering a certain service or product are sometimes contrary to the public interest. More than ever when the activity domain for that private entity is a low profit margin industry such as clothing manufacturing, basic household electronics or basic customer service. Therefore what may be good for a business based in a certain country might not be good for most of those country’s citizens. So it is good for Levi’s to outsource all labor to cut labor costs, but it is not good for textile workers in US and the state of California that lost an important manufacturing employer. It is good for Dyson to outsource manufacturing to Malaysia but not so good for laborers in UK. And these examples could go on…

Vacuum cleaners and jeans are the type of products one can easily shop around for. Even take it to the extreme –one can saw their own clothing and sweep with homemade brooms. But there are certain services or products that are to be considered basic necessities in a civilized society. Certain services(products) are clearly directed to the needs of specific individuals such as food stamps, and housing assistance programs. Certain services (products) are to benefit the society as a whole: public transportation, the infrastructure -from roads to broadband internet services, universal healthcare and public education are just a few examples. They are not likely to be generating profits this is why the government is expected to be involved to a certain extent to make sure that the whole society contributes to their well functioning and development even though some people are less likely to benefit from direct use. The amount of government involvement shall be determined based on the specifics of each service or product and it can be limited to the development and enforcement of the right public policies to the extent of establishing governments run monopolies. Whatever the decision will be for a limited approach to government regulation or not , it should be a pragmatic one  and not one based on ideology.

 

Yet the fact that I probably agree with Mr. Pawlenty on several points does not bridge the divide between us. And the gap is ideological – unlike him and other right-wing conservatives I strongly believe that each community be it a local one , a state or the country as a whole is more than just the sum of all individuals residing in the community. And because there is more to it does make perfect sense to talk about private interest as opposed to public interest.

Another ideological divide comes from what right-wing conservatives believe to be the common denominator to all individuals living in that community. They seem to be convinced that there is an intrinsic quality, the essence  of all people born here (or at least to all white people born here) they call “American Exceptionalism”. I believe that what makes us a whole is a system of explicit and unwritten cohabitation rules, a system that includes law, public policies, culture, religion, social class etc.  A system that is continuously changing, that was indeed exceptional at one time but could easily turn into less than exceptional, even lame…

 

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