Shawgi Tell is a professor at Nazareth College in upstate New York who writes frequently about education.

David Osborne’s Twisted Logic

David Osborne is one of America’s foremost neoliberal demagogues. He is a major representative of the so-called “Third Way,” a clever label for destructive neoliberal aims, policies, and arrangements. His constant attacks on public right can be found at the website of the Progressive Policy Institute, which is not progressive at all, as well as in a number of books emphasizing the theme of “reinventing” (read: further privatizing) government.

Osborne has spent much of his life attacking the public sector and pushing for its privatization (“reinvention”) as fast as possible. He has long been heavily funded by wealthy private interests that support neoliberal policies in every sector and sphere of society.

In the sphere of education, Osborne has been a relentless supporter of privately-operated low-transparency charter schools, which are notorious for being unaccountable, segregated, deunionized, and corrupt.

Osborne receives ample space and time on many platforms around the country to promote neoliberal disinformation masquerading as “interesting and needed discussion.” Recently, he was in Rochester, New York promoting the “benefits” of unaccountable privately-operated charter schools. His visit “coincided” with a big push by local newspapers, the Mayor, local elite, and state education officials to impose the failed state takeover model on the heavily-demonized Rochester City School District (RCSD). Naturally, thousands of people in Rochester oppose charter schools, privatization, and a state takeover of the RCSD.

On June 19, 2019, the Washington Post carried a lengthy article by Osborne with the twisted title, “‘Privatization’ doesn’t make charter schools bad. It makes them like Obamacare and Medicare.”

The entire article is straightforward disinformation designed to fool the gullible.

Comfortable with casually ignoring: (1) a large body of evidence against charter schools, (2) the fact that nonprofit charter schools are as rotten as for-profit charter schools, and that there are (3) profound differences between the meaning, definition, purpose, and scope of public and private, Osborne begins by going after some of the many people rightly opposing charter schools and privatization, starting with Bernie Sanders.

But that is not what is most important here.

The core and stubborn error with Osborne’s entire “argument,” here and elsewhere, is that it rests mainly on thoroughly and deliberately confusing the critical difference between the private and public spheres, including the very different aims, roles, and purposes of each in a modern society based on mass industrial production where all wealth is produced by working people.

Osborne desperately wants people to believe that it is more than OK if public goods, programs, and services are operated, “delivered,” or owned by the private sector. He claims that such an arrangement does not render something privatized or problematic, and that it should not really matter who runs things, as long as “the results” are “good.”

This is a self-serving, worn-out, and shallow “argument.”

Obviously, it does matter who runs, governs, and decides public programs and services in a society based on large-scale production. It matters very much and makes all the difference.

Public and Private are Antonyms

Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms. Conceptual confusion flourishes and results in antisocial policies when these different categories are mixed up and used carelessly, as so often happens.

Public refers to everyone, the common good, the general interests of society. Public means  inclusive, open, and non-rivalrous. A public service, for example, is usually free or close to free so that it is accessible by all. A public good is one that benefits everyone, whether they use it or not.

Private, on the other hand, means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. Private means not open to or accessible by all.

For these and other reasons, the aims, preoccupations, outlook, drive, and agenda of public forces and private forces are not the same. Private wealthy interests and the common good are not identical; they actually contradict each other.

Osborne is eager to cover up these profound distinctions so as to justify the looting of the public treasury by wealthy private interests.

In the Washington Post article, Osborne asks: “But if a publicly funded service is delivered by a private organization, does that make it a private service?”

Yes it does. That is precisely what it means.

Once the narrow private claims of owners of capital, who are obsessed with maximizing profit as fast possible, are imposed on public programs or services, it automatically reduces the claim of workers (the producers of wealth) and the claims of government (which is supposed to serve the public) on enterprise wealth. Public-Private “Partnerships” (PPPs), for example, are nothing more than a way to funnel public funds and assets to owners of capital under the veneer of high ideals. Neoliberals cover up this money grab by “arguing” ad nauseam that PPPs are good for competition, efficiency, results, and choice. PPPs are essentially pay-the-rich schemes.

To put it another way, imposing private claims on public institutions, enterprises, and services necessarily means more public revenue for the private sector and less for the public sector. Workers and the government are the two main claimants on revenue in a public service. Once a third, private, alien claim is introduced, usually in the name of “choice,” “competition,” and “efficiency,” this automatically reduces the amount of public revenue that goes to workers and the government (which is supposed to represent the public but often doesn’t). Some of the revenues produced by working people must now go to an alien external claimant. Again, Osborne wants people to believe that publicly-funded but privately-operated services and programs are just fine, and that we should all stop complaining and just quietly embrace privatization. Osborne sees no problems with pay-the-rich schemes that harm the natural and social environment.

In reality, public goods, services, and programs are not commodities. They are not “consumer goods” or “costs.” They cannot be reduced to mere budgetary issues. This is a capital-centered way of viewing things. They are basic social human responsibilities that must be provided in a way that ensures the well-being of society and the economy. Approaching social responsibilities as a business, contract, or commodity enriches wealthy private interests and lowers the quantity and quality of services for the majority. It also increases corruption and impunity.

Neoliberals do not think it is a problem for everything in society to operate on the basis of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the so-called “free market.” They want everything to operate according to the law of the jungle.

In the June 19 Washington Post article, Osborne gives example after example of how the rich seize and control public funds under the banner of “providing a public service.” Due to the failure to analyze society, the economy, and the difference between public and private, Osborne is unable to envision a society where the public actually controls the economy and directs the affairs of society. Objectively, he is unable and unwilling to cognize any alternatives to the destructive “Third Way.” He remains trapped in a business-centric view of life.