The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Would Industry run schools better than government?

It’s possible, but by my reckoning, at best, not by much. Here’s my reasoning:
I’ve spent my life zig-zagging between upper and lower income communities, and one thing I’ve definitely noticed is that there is a difference in the quality and quantity of goods and services available in the upper-scale communities. Of course. That’s why everyone wants money. No-brainer.

However…the differential between the quality of goods and services in, say, Compton and Beverly Hills is in many ways starker when it comes to COMMERCIAL concerns than PUBLIC services. Banks, grocery stores, book stores, movie theaters…no comparison in quality. Water and power, street maintenance, etc.—closer to comparable. Police? Well, I’ve seen cops take DAYS to show up in poorer neighborhoods. Restaurants? Fast food is about the same (and to be fair, I’ve had a joke for years where I observe that “the worse run MacDonald’s I’ve ever seen is more efficient than the best run post office I’ve ever seen.) Looking at that, I see no reason, no reason at all, in the slightest, to trust that private industry would serve poorer areas better than government. None. Here’s an example: public transportation, say, buses and taxis. Buses running along Santa Monica, right through Beverly Hills, are definitely neater and cleaner than buses running through Compton. But the Compton buses do run on a schedule, and they’ll get you there. But the difference between taxis is enormous. Not only rattier and ricketier, but it’s damned near impossible to get one. In areas of the country where Taxi service is more important: New York, Chicago, etc, it looks to me as if this difference is even broader.

It isn’t that government is wonderful, but there seems to be a movement to promote the idea that private industry can solve everything. Just coincidentally, if we privatized these things, there are a lot of people who would get frigging RICH. Suggesting that they don’t have a motivation to strongly promote industry as a cure for everything is naïve. I had a conversation with a neighbor on this subject yesterday. He’s an educator, a very bright man, and a very good man. On the subject of voucher, he offered that children would have the option of going outside their neighborhoods to find better schools.

O.K….but that has NOTHING to do with whether the schools are run by government or private industry, and EVERYTHING to do with how the schools are set up to accept students. That particular objection could be dealt with by proposing that public schools take students from whatever area they come.

Now, there may be those who would say that they believe private industry would be more flexible in this, and other regards. Probably true. But in my experience, that will only be true at the top end. I’ve shopped in chain stores in poor neighborhoods (when you can find them), and at the very least, there is as much variation in quality as you get in, say, post offices in poor and wealthy neighborhoods. But in poor neighborhoods, you get pawn shops, not banks. I offer to you the thought that this is EXACTLY the difference you’d get in education, once the bruhaha had died down.

I’m sure that the majority of the people in favor of vouchers are just trying to make the system fairer for everyone, and have the best of intentions. I just ask them to look at the commercial concerns available to the people in the affected areas, and see if their apparently a priori assumptions about the wonderful effectiveness of the free market really holds up.
“Good Luck Chuck” (2007)

Well, dentist Dane Cook had a curse placed on him: any woman he sleeps with will find true love with the NEXT guy she meets. This gets him a lot of nookie, of course, but once he meets a drop-dead gorgeous Jessica Alba, he gets nervous. He doesn’t want HER to fall for the next guy. And therein hangs a slight, very raunchy piece of fluff, with probably more explicit sex than I’ve seen in a movie in many years. It all comes out about as you’d expect. There is some fairly cruel humor directed at the obese—be careful of this. But I also laughed. There are too few movies where stuffed penguins are give the erotic attention they deserve.

Yes, the dentist has an enormously fat black receptionist. Yes, she pounces on him, looking for “luck.” She is the only black person in a movie populated 99% with toned, perfectly athletic and sensual white people. And boy, is she a Mammy. Yes, he has a chubby best friend. Yes, there is a white woman who is…well, frighteningly obese and acne-scarred. But both of these are balanced by countless images of attractive, sexy white folks. I wish they’d warned me in the coming attractions.

And for those of you who (in my humble opinion) have your heads in the sand and will knee-jerk reflex “that’s racist Hollywood!” I can only shake my head. Yeah. And the fact that there’s never been a black President is due to “that racist Washington.” And the fact that there are so few black SF writers or characters is “that racist New York.” So few blacks in Country Western? That racist Nashville! Wow! Isn’t this fun? Encapsulating the worst human tendencies so that it’s just those OTHERS who have it? And if there are few female, say auto executives, its that sexist Detroit! How many more examples of denial can you think of?

Apparently, it is very comforting to believe such nonsense. It’s us. It’s the folks in the mirror. There’s no one else out there.

And by the way: do “Good Luck Chuck” and the question of school vouchers connect? Sure they do. The very same people who make decisions about movies like “Chuck”—whether in the executive offices or buying tickets, all of whom are in complete denial about the fact that it is their own unprocessed emotional crapola that creates racist imagery, are in positions to make decisions about whose children get what resources. So the only question I have is: which model, private industry or government service, has the greatest degree of upward mobility? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I’m willing to grant that the degree to which a person can be born at the bottom and work their way to the top might be roughly similar.

But under no circumstances do I believe that Old Money is more flexible than Old Political power. Although I sure do see the forces of capital working hard to convince people they are.

Anyone have any statistics? Because otherwise its welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss. A shell game of saying “we’ll take better care of you!” while we siphon off billions.

I don’t buy it. I’ve lived with at the effect of differential power all my life. Everybody gathers power to their own. Anyone who says that they’re making a change for MY benefit, or the benefit of others not of their group…and that change just happens to put vast resources in the pockets of members of THEIR group (and make no mistake: everyone in a position to write such legislation knows lotsa lotsa rich people)…I reserve the right to remember “Good Luck Chuck.”

Oh. By the way. I give it a “C-“

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