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Tilting at Windmills

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October 13, 2010

DON'T PRIVATIZE THE CDC.... Extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) is basing much of his platform on trying to privatize everything he can get his hands on. The right-wing Colorado lawyer, for example, boasts about his plans to privatize Social Security, and if possible, even Veterans Administration hospitals.

But if we're inclined to draw lines to protect some government services from this ideological extremism, I'd like to think the Centers for Disease Control would be free from privatization. Buck doesn't seem to see it that way.

During a March appearance on the Aaron Harber TV show, which airs on Denver PBS station KBDI, Buck discussed how wasteful and inefficient the federal government is and said, "I don't believe that the federal government runs anything more efficiently than the private sector. [...]

Harber then asked about privatizing the National Science Foundation. Buck replied it would be better to have industry work with the science foundation rather than have the government run it alone.

"How about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?" Harber asked.

"Absolutely, again, partnering with private foundations, private hospitals, states and local governments, far more efficient than ... having the federal government run something.... I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't get health care or that we shouldn't have a function in our country like CDC. What I'm suggesting is that ... folks that are in control of that program, if they're in the federal government, are going to be a lot less efficient than if they're in the private sector."

The Buck campaign has responded to the remarks, which have begun generating more attention in Colorado this week, arguing that Buck didn't say he'd privatize the CDC, only that the CDC would be better if it were under private control with private-sector employees.

That ought to clear things up.

Note, Buck has no evidence that the CDC is inefficient or unproductive now; it's just that he has an ideological crusade to fight. The CDC may be operating flawlessly, but that's not the point -- Buck doesn't care what works; he cares what's conservative.

Karl Moeller, executive director of the Campaign for Public Health, noted, "There are certain roles for government and excellent ways the private sector can support disease control and prevention, but controlling disease outbreaks and assessing health risk and determining whether heart disease is spreading ... or on the decline is really not something the private sector can ever really do."

Or would really even want to do. If there's a mumps outbreak, there's not much of a profit margin for private industry. When a flu vaccine needs to be distributed, there's not much of a profit margin, either. It's why we created the CDC in the first place -- it's a public agency designed to help public health, whether it's profitable or not.

Last year, Paul Krugman noted, "[B]oth sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods -- goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (there's no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.) The classic examples are things like lighthouses and national defense, but there are many others."

Yep, and I thought the Centers for Disease Control and a public-sector defense against the spread of chronic and infectious diseases was one of them. The U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado seems to have a very different perspective.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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If the Democrats would start framing the Republican/Tea Party public to private sector fantasies as a threat to national security, I believe that would begin to blunt that rhetorical weapon.

Posted by: thepixelsuite on October 13, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Ah yes, the wonders of privatization!
Where we once paid a private a little bit above the hourly minimum wage to peel potato's on KP, we now pay some Halliburton subsidiary $35 an hour hire to import someone from the the Philipines to Afghanistan to do KP for less than $1 and hour. And we spend thousands on each worker to make sure they're not some sort of Muslim terror sympathizer who wants to infiltrate our facilities.
Do you mean the efficiency of that kind of privatization?
Ok, got it!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on October 13, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

I believe in free enterprise. I think the drive for profit is a strong motivator and helps make the economy strong.

But a key word there is 'profit'. A business must make a profit or it is not viable. Not all worthwhile ventures can generate a profit. For those worthwhile things (like police, fire protection, etc.) government has a role to play.

To assert that something like the CDC would be better run as a private entity you have to understand two things: what is the business model and where do the profits come from? Who would be the customers and what would be the products? In such a scenario what would be different than existing pharmaceutical companies?

And what of the cost of the 'profit' going to the owners? That just adds to the cost and is not a benefit to the customers. In other words, for a given enterprise undertaken by government and private interests, the private version will have an added cost to it to provide a profit to the owners which the government version does not have.

Posted by: nerd on October 13, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

When most govts that are in advanced countries are tryig to provide mere services or salvage as nmany as they can we have people here( the rich and the deluded) who beleive that privatization and the free market are tye answer to all ills. The rich don't care because they will just buy whatever they want. The deluded will become distraught with the lack of govt to provide any services and beleive the utter nonsense about the free market. THIRD WORLD COUNTRY HERE WE COMME.

Posted by: Gandalf on October 13, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

With today's republicans we'd all end up dead for due to their greed, low standards and ineptness.

Posted by: Silver Owl on October 13, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

As a proponent of Privatize Everything, I assume Mr. Buck's fund raising letters go out in FedX envelopes. . .

Posted by: DAY on October 13, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Everything private is better than anything public, and so long as one of us, somewhere, is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, none of us, anywhere, is truly free.

Gospel according to St. Ronald, 1:1 ff.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on October 13, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry about the spelling errore but this is really disturbing.

Posted by: Gandalf on October 13, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

if they're in the federal government, are going to be a lot less efficient than if they're in the private sector

Being a retired fed employee, I resent comments like this. I worked along side many dedicated employees who went above and beyond expectations. Buck is a fuck.

Posted by: flyonthewall on October 13, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is about as short-sighted as one can imagine, and - as mentioned in the article - it IS a threat to national security as the CDC deals directly with issues pertaining with the health of the nation as well as emergent crises around the world that can influence the health of American citizens.

Who, in their right mind, would want a private industry having access to Level IV Pathogens such as Ebola Zaire, Marburg virus and the Spanish Flu? Quite frankly, I don't think I relish the idea of Halliburton getting their dirty little hands into things that can make the Black Death of Yrsenia Pestis look like a walk in the park. Thanks, but let's keep things WELL REGULATED - like a well regulated MILITIA - you want a gun, join a militia. Better yet, join the army.

Leave the nasty bugs for the professionals. They have the know-how, and the professionalism, to know how to deal with them - and they aren't guided by the mantra of "profits first" to lead them down the path of disaster.

Posted by: CrazyComposer on October 13, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

KEN BUCK: "What I'm suggesting is that ... folks that are in control of that program, if they're in the federal government, are going to be a lot less efficient than if they're in the private sector."

GREYDOG: What a ridiculous statement! Am I really supposed to believe that a person working for the federal government would do a worse job than if that same person worked the same job in the private sector? How do they keep getting away with this kind of nonsense?

It's very sad and discouraging to see how easy it is to manipulate the masses into believing all kinds of bullshit.

Posted by: Greydog on October 13, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

For-profit medicine has given the US the world's most expensive health-care system. What could possibly go wrong with privatizing every other government function?

Posted by: walt on October 13, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Where does the myth of private sector 'efficiency' come from? GM was a private company and damn near ran itself into the ground with inefficient management, lousy design and bad leadership. It took federal intervention to give it a chance at survival. IBM nearly destroyed itself in the early 90s with all its private sector efficiency.

How many people have an 'efficient' experience with customer service departments? I've dealt with private sector customer service reps that make the stereotypical DMV clerks look like saints. Apple's brilliant efficiency gave us the iPhone 4 with a defective antenna and glass back prone to cracking. And how about Microsoft's Windows Vista?

Somewhere close to 80 percent of all new businesses fail within five years. Are those people efficient? Do we really want a model where 80 percent of federal sevices fail?

And for those of us who work in the private sector take a good long look around your company. How bloody 'efficient' is it really? Is there a ISO 9000 quality system with its multiple repetitive forms? Do managers scream at employees about a $100 dollar expense while casually authorizing the purchse of a $50k car for the President?

Do I even have to mention Wall Streets efficiency during the runup to the recent collapse?

Has nobody read the brilliant documentary cartoon series Dilbert?

Seriously where the hell does the myth of private sector 'efficiency' come from?

Posted by: thorin-1 on October 13, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Socialism is dead

The Right's greatest victory was not turning liberal into a dirty word, but rather turning socialism into a unopposed slur. What can the left organize around as a counter idea? What succinct response exists to respond to Ken Buck? Will you call him a Capitalistic Pig? Hardly.

Think hard about this vacuum I am pointing out: There is no resonating slur the left can issue in response to being called a socialist. All a Democrat can do, and they do it all the time, is deny the charge. There is no offensive counter!

Capitalism now has no opposing counterweight. And since there is no organized body of thought, like socialism, from which to push back against privatization, the Right has an easier argument to shout.

And thus the barbarians aren't just at the gate.
They have become the gatekeepers....

Posted by: koreyel on October 13, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

A common thread among all these "tea bag candidates" is enervating hatred of the Other (Federal employee, Minority, liberal) as a means to drive voters to the polls. It is just another example of negative campaigning, writ large.

Posted by: DAY on October 13, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Blackwater proves we can go a long way to privatizing defense. Mercenaries anyone?

As to lighthouses, why are they public anyway? Yep, privatize everything. If the fire last week in Kentucky proved anything, it proved that privatizing fire departments works. After all the guy who paid his $75 was protected as his neighbor's house burned to the ground. Served that deadbeat right.

Conservative America is becoming a really ugly cold and harsh place to live. What happened to the America of Leave It To Beaver? And wasn't Andy a public employee?

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 13, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

One of the worst of the Democrats' many heinous failures of messaging is their inability to properly address the "all government is inefficient while all private industry is efficient" bullshit.

I've worked for large corporations and currently have several as clients, including some extremely bling-heavy outfits. The most inefficient and disorganized institution I've ever seen from the inside is the largest and most financially successful company of its kind in the world.

There is nothing about private ownership that automatically leads to efficiency and cuts down waste. Large institutions tend to be full of bureaucracy, waste, redundancy, and needless wheel-spinning because they're large institutions, not because they're publicly or privately run. Democrats need to point this out, acknowledge that we need to constantly be on the lookout for ways to cut down on government waste, and then shift the message to "Do Americans really want to put our health, safety, security, mobility, and general well being in the hands of people who stand to make more money by denying us those things?"

Posted by: shortstop on October 13, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

"Halliburton getting their dirty little hands into things that can make the Black Death of Yrsenia Pestis look like a walk in the park."

All the GOP would have to say on Fox is: "that would never happen."

Like Halliburton not using those expensive safety devices or Monsanto using Blackwater to infiltrate animal rights groups.

What about a counter-threat to see unionization in every department the Republicans privatize...

Posted by: Skip on October 13, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK
Buck doesn't care what works; he cares what's conservative.

I've never seen so few words better sum up modern-day conservatives.

And that's all they have. They ignore what works, what helps people, what makes America better, stronger, safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more competitive in the 21st century -- and all because of some idiotic and discredited ideology.

I just ... I don't get it. I really don't.

Posted by: Mark D on October 13, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

First off, when Buck says he'd like to see more public-private "partnerships," what he's really saying is that he'd like people with connections to businesses that stand to make a profit off taxpayer handouts in control of those handouts. Or people with connections to businesses that may be regulated by a government agency in charge of regulating themselves. Just the "partnership" between BP and the MMS that gave us the the recent accidental surplus discharge in the Gulf! Or the partnership between the USDA and the egg industry that recently proved so effective.

Second, of all the memes in our public life I would like to see taken out and shot in broad daylight, like that Viet Cong guy in the famous photo, it's the idea that private industry is somehow more efficient or streamlined than government entities. PRIVATE ENTERPRISE IS JUST AS, IF NOT MORE, FUCKED UP THAN GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACIES. Seriously -- can you name ONE single, damn thing recently where private businesses have not just been utterly incompetent, but completely corrupt and inefficient to boot? Settling the mortgage meltdown? Oh, I'm sure the brilliant geniuses at GMAC and BofA and the other financial behemoths can do that because they're all "efficient" and shit. Of course not. It's completely FUBAR.

If private enterprise was so efficient, the management consulting industry would not exist. Talk to anyone in that business. They have work because half the time, people running a particular business have no friggin' clue what they're doing and need some pinhead to tell them how to distinguish their business model from their ass and a hole in the ground. Really -- try it -- you'll get these hilarious stories about high-paid product development managers who have spent years failing upwards into a job they have no idea how to do and have completely screwed everything up and still think they're brilliant.

I will take the Post Office, the DMV and the IRS in terms of how they get their job done over the shitheads at some "efficient" private business like Verizon or Bank of America any day -- to say nothing of outsourcing our public health agencies to Pfizer or something.


Posted by: jonas on October 13, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

nerd is exactly right. Yes, in many cases, the private sector can produce a good or service at a lower cost than the public sector. In many cases, the profit motive provides a tremendous incentive to get things right. And in many cases, accountability for failure -- the stick to the carrot of profit -- is greater in the private sector.

But these are all generalizations. Sometimes a private company is poorly run. Sometimes, as nerd pointed out, there isn't a real market for a social good. And sometimes other things provide greater incentives than profit will. For example, love of country, honor, and pride in public service can make government soldiers cheaper and more disciplined than their mercenary counterparts.

Even if a private company could somehow turn a profit by performing the services of the CDC, one suspects that a private entity would have to pay more to employ the same doctors and scientists because a private entity can't offer the same prestige.

Posted by: square1 on October 13, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the thing, though: Buck isn't conservative, not by a long shot. The word 'conservative' clearly implies that you want to, I don't know, conserve things. All I hear the current batch of so-called conservatives saying is 'end this, end that, privatize this, privatize that.' By that measure, the last conservative worthy of the traditional meaning of the term was Gerry Ford. This current batch of GOoPers isn't conservative; they're radical deconstructionists: they want to complete the disassembly of the United States which became the greatest superpower and economy that the world has ever known. What makes this even more pathetic is their motivation for this: profit.


Posted by: Zorro on October 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

It's called Vertical Integration [VI].

What if — and this is just off the top of my head now — what if Genentech USA, Inc. acquired a controlling interest in CDC Corp.? And what if they discovered that, with every announcement of a swine flu epidemic, the sales of Tamiflu™ shot up? And what if the CDC Corp. lobbyists convinced Congress to pass legislation, as a part of the revised and diluted Health Care Reform bill of 2014, that all American citizens had to be given Tamiflu every six months, paid for by our tax dollars [just as the Defense Department decided all military personnel needed Tamiflu in the early days of the war on terror, after which our tax dollars paid one of Genentech's largest stock holders, Donald Rumsfeld, several million dollars in dividends]?

I'm just spit-balling here. But, when someone asks to privatize something like the CDC or Social Security or a border fence or the National Guard or FEMA or drug checks for welfare recipients or whatever, isn't it just maybe possible that there's a profit motive in play for the people who are: a] insisting on privatization; and b] insisting on deregulation?

Nah! It's just crazy talk. Go ahead and privatize away. I'm sure we won't notice the difference.

Posted by: chrenson on October 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Truly, we don't need any government whatsoever, particularly one that is democratically controlled.

It's past time for a return to the middle ages, where money and might ruled the land.

Human Rights? Justice? Bah, humbug!

Posted by: republicanpointofviewtoo on October 13, 2010 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

And what would happen if the Bin Laden family were to acquire a controlling interest in the privatized CDC?

This IS national defense.

Posted by: pbg on October 13, 2010 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

The CDC works for the public health of the entire planet, not just the U.S. There is no other comparable institution in any other country, and the entire world depends on the CDC for communicable disease control. Yes, other countries also contribute, but the CDC is the nerve center. Gosh, we just haven't been able to persuade the viruses and bacteria to recognize national boundaries!

If it were privatized, the CDC would be looking for ways to make a profit, and as others have pointed out, there is no profit to most of disease control.

Someone posited a scenario where the CDC would require Tamiflu vaccinations every 6 months. It wouldn't just be Tamiflu, it would be every disease for which a vaccination can be effective. But too many vaccinations carry their own problems.

I don't know how we liberals can accomplish it, but somehow we need to get the message out that private enterprise works very well in some situations and that other situations require governmental entities of some sort.

BTW, one success story to point to is smallpox eradication. This was done by WHO, with the cooperation of most of the countries' public health departments. Eradication of polio, measles (for the most part), and other diseases are also a public health success story.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on October 13, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop: Once again, I agree with everything you say.

Posted by: chrenson on October 13, 2010 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, one success story to point to is smallpox eradication. This was done by WHO, with the cooperation of most of the countries' public health departments.

Can you imagine this happening today?

The entire American right would be squalling that they're not about to collaborate with terrorist countries to put down a disease that probably is made up just like global warming. Mike Huckabee would comment at a press conference that epidemics spread faster in poverty-stricken areas because the poor lack the ethic to keep well. Louie Gohmert would appear on Fox nightly to avow that Mexico deserves to get sick because of all the illegals it sends to the U.S. And Michele Bachmann would stand on the floor of the House and announce that she has it on good authority that Christians and Muslims can't get the same diseases anyway.

Posted by: shortstop on October 13, 2010 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK


We don't have to image. We already saw what happened during the swine-flu outrbreak. Republican pundits claiming it was a plot by Obama to take over the country. Members of congress questioning spending on public health.

A lot of health experts will say that it was tje quick action on the part of the CDC (coordinating with other nations) that kept swine flu from becoming a full on pandemic.

But don't tell Republicans that. They will just say swine-flu was blown out of proportion or wasn't a big deal. Never mind that the main reason it didn't become a big deal was because government did it's job and did it well.

Posted by: thorin-1 on October 13, 2010 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

On a related note: CNN has a piece on "When companies fund research" subtitled "Where's the line between research and marketing?":

Robocop movies--Republican Nirvana...

Posted by: golack on October 13, 2010 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK



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