Paul Buchheit: Regulation is meant to protect all of us, but anti-government activists have worked hard to turn us against our own best interests.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to part two of our interview with Paul Buchheit.
Paul is a college teacher at DePaul University in Chicago. He’s a writer for progressive publications and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites like UsAgainstGreed.org.
Thanks for joining us again. Paul.
PAUL BUCHHEIT, FOUNDER, USAGAINSTGREED.ORG: Okay. Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Paul, let’s just pick up from where we left off and talk about the banking sector. Many have linked the stock market crash of 2008 to the actual repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Can you talk a little bit more about the effect of deregulating banks? And what is the alternative, in your view, of that type of system?
BUCHHEIT: Well, you mention Glass-Steagall, and that’s key. You know, it’s been remarkable to, in my mind, astounding that we didn’t learn our lesson from the Great Depression. I mean, Glass-Steagall was implemented specifically to separate the investment banks and the commercial banks so this wouldn’t happen, what happened in 2008 with the mortgage crash and the derivatives and, you know, the wild speculation. It hurts—the great majority of Americans are hurt by the speculation in the financial industry and the banks.
But they lobbied for repeal of Glass-Steagall, and they got their way. And that was in the late ’90s with Clinton. And it’s hurt almost all of us. The only people it has not hurt are the banks, of course, the CEOs, the hedge fund managers who are well-positioned to make literally billions.
I mean, think of that. You know, what used to be a pretty egalitarian society up until, like, 1980, it’s been getting worse and worse. And now, in the last ten years or so, we have—as middle America has gone backwards, losing, like, 35 percent of its net worth, mainly in homes, we have individuals out there that are literally making billions of dollars a year.
I mean, that’s—and it’s all because, again, this deregulation now—I’m not totally—it might sound like it, but I’m not totally anti-capitalist. I think it can work if it’s regulated. And I think the evidence shows over the last 30 years that that’s exactly the case, that—or over the last hundred years, that capitalism, if you don’t regulate it, then greed takes over. I don’t know if it’s human nature, but that’s how it works.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And let’s talk about your next point about prisons and the prison industry that has become increasingly more privatized. How does making a revenue-generating business of incarceration affect rehabilitation?
BUCHHEIT: Well, again, the current studies, the recent studies have shown that private prisons are not well managed. There’s the profit incentive there, so their services are cut back. You know, the quality of the food and the prison conditions themselves, you know, the maintenance, the guard staff, you know, it’s cut back as much as possible so that profits can be made.
And that’s not what—prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation, about getting people prepared for society again. But with the private system, the incentive is to get more people into prison. Chris Hedges said that or estimated that private companies make about $40,000 a year on an inmate. So of course they’re going to try to fill the prisons and get as many as they can.
So that ties in, sadly, to the whole—Michelle Alexander wrote about the new Jim Crow, you know, how drug arrests and now school-to-prison pipeline, there are more and more ways to get young people who haven’t really done that much wrong or maybe nothing wrong—you know, they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they’re getting stopped and frisked or accused of crimes, be put in jail. And even if it’s just for a short time, you know, there’s a lingering effect where some studies—a couple of studies I’ve read have shown that once a kid is put into jail even once, he or she is more likely to be a repeat offender, because the stigma is there. You’ve been in jail. You know. But it all feeds the profits of the industry.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s change gears and look at education. We are seeing the continuing push for that school choice or voucher system, essentially, that would be privatizing a sector that is considered to be a right, a public sector, which is education. Can you talk a little bit about—are you seeing this push to privatize education, just a move by capital needing a place to go, really? Is this just a new area to colonize?
BUCHHEIT: Well, yes. If there’s any one area of these eight that bothers me the most, it’s education, because the idea of taking—of trying to view our children as products—that’s basically what’s happening. And that’s just unconscionable, you know, that you can think of a child as a source of income.
And it doesn’t even work. I mean, the most famous, well known study is from Stanford, the CREDO study, which was done in 2009, and now three or four years later it was updated, and it continues to show that charter schools and privatization in general does not work any better than the public system, and perhaps even not as well.
And, again, here in Chicago it’s, you know, with 50 schools being closed, and the same issue is in Philadelphia and other cities around the country. What’s happening is the money is being drained out of the public system, and then the public system starts to fall apart. And then everybody blames government. And then privatizers come in and say, well, we can solve your problems. You know. But, again, it’s a money-making proposition, and it’s hurting the great majority of us.
But I think people don’t even realize what’s really happening, how insidious this is, that the privatizers are blaming the communities for failing, when in reality it’s the draining of the money from the public system.
DESVARIEUX: Okay, Paul, let’s look at your last point about consumer protection. What are the effects of unregulated privatization on consumer protection? And can you give us some examples?
BUCHHEIT: Well, yes. There are three recent examples. The explosion in the Texas fertilizer plant killed a lot of people, and the Arizona forest fire killed, like, 19 firefighters. And up in Quebec, there was a disastrous train wreck that killed a lot of people. All three of those cases or those instances followed deregulation. So, like, the Texas fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected in, like, 25 years. In Arizona, the budget cuts, the sequester caused a lot of firefighters and fire equipment to be cut back. And in Quebec, the same thing. You know, the rails were deregulated. So those are just three examples, but there’s more.
I mean, if you look at how important the FDA, the EPA, and FEMA, you know, Hurricane Sandy, how important it is to have these protection systems through public funding to help all of us instead of just trying to provide profits for a few people and cutting back on everything else, the cutbacks are damaging our country.
And it’s only the media, the people controlling the media with the propaganda that is causing people to vote against themselves, basically. You know, people don’t realize that this rampant deregulation is and privatization is hurting themselves.
DESVARIEUX: Thank you so much for walking us through your piece, “Eight Ways Privatization Has Failed America”. Thank you again for joining us.
BUCHHEIT: Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.