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Private Gain Must No Longer Be Allowed to Elbow out the Public Good

By Dr. Philipsen / aeon.co

Private Gain Must No Longer Be Allowed to Elbow out the Public Good

Firefighters applaud medical workers in Manhattan, New York, on 7 April 2020 / B A Van Sise/NurPhoto via Getty

Again, I’ve stumbled on an article today that mirrors so many of my thoughts. This is another article of the sort I was planning on trying to write at some point, but Dr. Philipsen has beaten me to it in excellent form.

One of the points made is the naivety of the ‘just let the market handle it’ attitude to problem solving. It also stresses something I’ve thought about a lot myself: just how dependent a thriving market economy is on a thriving public:

Many have pointed out the immorality of our system of greed and self-centred gain, its inefficiency, its cruelty, its shortsightedness and its danger to planet and people. But, above all, the logic of self-interest is superficial in that it fails to recognise the obvious: every private accomplishment is possible only on the basis of a thriving commons—a stable society and a healthy environment.

Another excellent point made in the article:

The economy is embedded in a healthy society with functional public services, not the other way around.

This bucks the notion of ‘trickle down’ economics. Supposedly, according to libertarian-leaning free-market ideology, we should de-fund every public program and pile that money solely into private business and interests in the hopes that it will then trickle back down to benefit the public in some way. In reality, it is a strong public ensures the vitality of business and private endeavors. If people are too broke, sick, and poor to be consumers, then this undermines private interests and the market—unless of course your private interest is in profiting off the extortion of the sick and poor, in which case this is also addressed:

Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing.

Boom. There it is folks. Dr. Philipsen also addresses the bizarre system we find ourselves in where private interests and businesses in crisis rely on public funds for bailouts:

Every time the private system works itself into a crisis, public funds bail it out—in the current crisis, to the tune of trillions of dollars. As others have noted, for more than a century, it’s a clever machine that privatises gains and socialises costs.

This article also references a great quote by Robert F. Kennedy that I’ve actually had in my notes to write/comment on for quite some time:

Commenting on how we track performance in modern economies—counting output not outcome, quantity not quality, prices not possibilities—the US senator Robert F Kennedy said in 1968 that we measure ‘everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile’. His larger point: freedom, happiness, resilience—all are premised on a healthy public. They rely on our collective ability to benefit from things such as clean air, free speech, good public education. In short: we all rely on a healthy commons. And yet, the world’s most powerful metric, gross domestic product (GDP), counts none of it.

Excellent point. GDP is a poor measure of a country’s overall happiness, or the things that contribute to it. Yet, it has dominated our notion of how ‘successful’ a country is. Perhaps it’s time to retire GDP as a metric, or at least de-emphasize it in favor of a more holistic way to measure how a society is truly thriving.