Before U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, was Betsy DeVos, she was Elisabeth Prince, older sister to Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, the private security (military) company.
(Shouts to my friend Chaka who mentioned this to me, but I didn’t catch it at the time). This book, the inside of cover of which is pictured below, Blackwater, was an eye-opener when I read it almost a decade ago. It introduced me to the issue of outsourcing public services to private contractors and writers like Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and who laid a framework for me to think about neoliberalism, the political ideology wherein taxes are cut and/or kept low, public services like education, prisons or military services are outsourced to private companies, and “the market” or competition is the model to answer any vexing policy question.
According to Scahill, in 2007 when this book was written, Blackwater had more than 2000
private soldiers spread over 9 countries on its payroll with a database of more than 20,000 former U.S. Special Forces, troops, soldiers and retired law enforcement it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater had grown to this size thanks in no small part to Dick Cheney , who served as Secretary of Defense under Bush I and Vice President under Bush II, and Donald Rumsfield, who was the Sect of Defense under Bush II, and had a desire to see the U.S. military have a “smaller footprint” in terms of the size of the active force and to become more flexible by outsourcing major services to companies like Halliburton, from whom Cheney made a fortune when he sold his shares earned from his time as CEO, a position he held between his terms as Secretary of Defense and Vice President. Prince’s company eventually unraveled due to a number of horrors, including convictions of employees for slaughtering 14 people while serving as private contractors in Iraq. Prince sold the company in 2010 although there are concerns he is attempting to bring back a new and improved security company under the Trump administration. Today, Prince has a reported net worth of $2.4 billion.
But, despite these references to Trump, Devos, Bush I & II & Cheney, as Kufere Laing said in his last post, it’s too easy to tell ourselves that the privatizing we see in DeVos/Prince is a Republican problem. This is the state of U.S. capitalism, and we could not be here without active Democratic Party participation. However, I recently came across an article on an 1819 Supreme Court Case: Dartmouth vs. Woodward, that has me considering the non-profit sector as a whole area of privatizing public services and wondering why we criticize and point out the dangers of charter schools, while not making the same case about non-profits. Dartmouth vs. Woodward is thought by many to set the stage for the non-profit sector in that it decided that corporations, such as universities were not representatives or under the control of the state, as had originally been intended in colonial England, but were instead private corporations whose governance and thus direction could be decided by their boards without outside interference from the government. In this sense, the non-profit sector represents the idea that we should not look to government for our general human needs be they artistic, human service, higher education, job training or health care, but rather look to comparably small corporations that can serve these needs through the entrepreneurial management of staff and boards and the funding largely from the private sector. This is especially true in the arts where government support pales in comparison to financing from the private sector. Of course receiving this support feels great when we get it, but what does the largely private financing of our non profit art sector do to our sense of an artistic life as a public benefit or even right?
In 1971, Richard Nixon, had attributed to him a quote from Milton Friedman, the eventual (1976) winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and author of the paper linked above on neoliberalism, and was said to have remarked “We are all Keynesians now”. What Nixon actually said was “I am now a Keynesian in economics” reflecting on how his coming budget was going to increase government spending and the similarity of that approach to the one recommended by John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist who advised increasing government spending in economic downturns. This was a dramatic statement since Nixon was a Republican and it was likened to a staunch Christian deciding Mohammed was right. As we in the non-profit sector rightly go hard on Betsy Devos for the neoliberal strategy of privatizing public education, we gotta ask ourselves, are we all neoliberals now?