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Private interests held to different standards, have too much influence

To the News Enterprise:

I appreciated your cautious view of plans to privatize certain Clinton County operations (Editorial, Oct. 15, 2011). All such plans certainly deserve to be scrutinized from every relevant perspective by objectively researching, for example, their predictable effects on the County’s budget, tax rates, quality of services, and the health and economic status of the jurisdiction’s citizens, all of which appears to have been done in the two cases cited in your editorial.

It is true that private businesses are held to different (but not necessarily higher) standards of accountability than public agencies. Milton Friedman, the economic guru of the conservative Cato Institute, believed that private firms should not be in the business of being socially responsible, but rather should be beholden only to their stockholders. Not a good standard for public agencies to emulate and a standard which, if not well modulated by public regulatory agencies, can lead to much environmental damage and detrimental effects on our citizens’ health.

Furthermore, the larger corporations, although running lean operations at the street level have, over the last few decades, been hoarding their profits and paying their executives exorbitant salaries and bonuses, a practice that would be rightfully resented were public agencies doing the same.

This obvious tension between public agencies and private industries that results from these different, and often conflicting, standards is unavoidable and probably quite necessary for a healthy and vibrant democracy — but only if it remains in balance, as difficult as that may be to achieve.

In my view, we have lost this balance at the national level because we have allowed private firms and their corporate leaders to have inordinate influence on both the election of our political representatives and on the public agencies which were established to regulate these businesses. Because of this undue influence, the causes of the huge fiscal deficits that are now afflicting this country cannot be realistically attributed to any one source: whether it be our government, our corporations, or, perhaps more likely, some complex mixture of the two.

Wes Dingman, North Creek

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