Activist Si Kahn and educator Elizabeth Minnich have issued a strong and courageous warning in The Fox in the Henhouse. In many ways, the title doesn't do it justice, for a phrase so familiar doesn't quite convey the original analysis contained in the book's pages.
Essentially, Kahn and Minnich contend that we are living in a time of competing world views -- not between the forces of freedom and terror, or Islam and the West, but rather a cleavage in our own society that few people have grasped. In this blunt and readable book, the authors have succeeded, arguing persuasively that the powerful forces of privatization -- multinational corporations whose only motivation is the bottom line -- have taken over more and more of our lives.
These massive conglomerates have set their sights on the corners of our economy that used to be the sphere of the public sector -- health care and education, Social Security and prisons, water and sewer, even the unpleasant job of making war. Fortified by an ideological article of faith that the private sector can usually do it better, "the corporate privatizers," as Kahn and Minnich call them, have found an ally in the Bush Administration, and the results at times are quite clearly disastrous.
In Iraq, for example, in the city of Mosul, insurgents blew up a mess hall for United States troops, killing 22 people. One military analyst expressed his astonishment that in contrast to long established practice, masses of soldiers were being fed at one time. That, he said, was something never done in a combat zone, precisely because a single bomb or mortar shell could kill so many people at once. But the job of feeding the soldiers in Mosul had been outsourced to a private company more interested in efficiency and profits than it was in the safety of the soldiers.
Kahn and Minnich believe that's merely one example of the dangers of rampant privatization -- the perilous delegation of our public business to companies whose goal is maximizing profit. These corporations, which do not, of course, make any pretense at being democratic, and value their riches above the public good, are rapidly changing the way we live, in effect beating the drum for a new set of values for which the authors believe we will pay. This book is an eloquent and well-reasoned warning that all of us will dismiss at our peril.
Former Charlotte journalist Frye Gaillard is writer in residence at the University of South Alabama.