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Restoring Public Control of Public Goods: Reconstruction, not “Deconstruction”
Conference October 2017

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) and the Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE) sponsored a conference on October 5-7 on the topic, “Restoring Public Control of Public Goods”. The event took place at The Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in Tarrytown, New York.

The meeting began with a sharing of information about the nature and extent of government “deconstruction” and privatization. Participants – from public interest and media-oriented activist NGOs, from government, and from academia – generated ideas for policies and public messaging. The shared goal is to reverse the momentum toward privatization and misapplied business models, and restore government’s ability to put public interest before private profit.

View the Conference Agenda

Learn more about the Public Economy Project.

Presentations

Rep. John Sarbanes keynoted the event on Thursday evening. Congressman Sarbanes is a leader in confronting conflicts of interest in government and advancing reforms that can restore Americans’ faith in our democracy. In his keynote, Congressman Sarbanes talked about “democracy reform” and described his “By the People” package, which “will put people’s interests ahead of special interests.”  Rep. Sarbanes also described his work to rein in the indiscriminate outsourcing of government services to the private sector and to ensure that core government services are performed by public employees who take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution.

June Sekera, GDAE Research Fellow, summarized the history of the last few decades in which much of the federal government has been contracted-out to private corporations, thus creating a “crisis of public control”. Government-for-the-people has been undermined by market advocates and interests, and in many cases replaced with government for private-profit-making. She then explained the purposes of the conference: to share information about these phenomena and to discuss ideas for counter-acting them in terms of both policies and public messaging.
Download PowerPoint [PPT]

David Hall, Founder, Public Service International Unit, University of Greenwich, presented the findings of his international research on privatization and public-private-partnerships, as discussed in his 2015 report Why Public-Private-Partnerships Don't Work
Download Presentation [PDF]

Shar Habibi, Research and Policy Director at In The Public Interest, talked about a study commissioned by her organization which revealed that much of the public supports "privatization" in concept, but that when people understand how the public loses control, their support decreases. Ms. Habibi described the research findings as well as effective approaches to counteract false messages.
Download PowerPoint [PPT]

Dr. Michael A.  Bernstein, Provost of Stony Brook University, discussed “Mainstream Economic Reasoning and the 'Demonization' of Government." Dr. Bernstein explained how economic orthodoxy misleads students and, in its use of ubiquitous "comparative-static” models, wholly mischaracterizes the manner in which markets actually operate. He stressed the importance of challenging prevailing paradigms, methodologies, and approaches to public policy issues. Read The Pitfalls of Mainstream Economic Reasoning (and Teaching) (pp. 33-40 in A Guide to What's Wrong with Economics), on which this talk was based.

Scott Amey, J.D., General Counsel at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), spoke about his research on outsourcing government functions, which found that, contrary to the claims of privatization advocates, “billions of dollars are wasted on hiring contractors” based on “a misguided assumption” that market practices enable federal contractors to be more cost efficient than public servants. The POGO study, Bad Business, found that contractors, on average across the 35 occupations examined, cost taxpayers almost twice what it would cost the government workers to do the same job.
Download Presentation [PDF]

Tom McGarity, Professor at University of Texas at Austin, School of Law, gave a talk titled “The Invisible Assault on Our Protections,” in which he provided an outline of his book Freedom to Harm.
Download Presentation [PDF]

Richard Murphy, Professor, Texas Tech University School of Law, spoke in the workshop on “Accountability for Corporations Doing the Basic Work of Government: Removing FOIA’s Shroud of Secrecy for Contractors.” He discussed the basic structure and operation of FOIA, contractors’ effective immunity from FOIA, and challenges to addressing this immunity.
Download Presentation [PDF]

James K. Galbraith, Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, argued that a new public administration needs to rest on modern scientific habits, recognizing that all biological, mechanical and social systems require effective regulation, not to "reduce externalities" but because otherwise they cannot exist at all. Once this is recognized, the task of government will be to make regulation and public provision of services work well, minimizing predation, parasitism, force and fraud. Listen to a recording.

Ellen Schneider, President and Founder, Active Voice Lab, presented during the workshop on “Public Messaging.” Her presentation addresses the issue of speaking “beyond the Choir” to reach audiences who do not think about the “commons” or who believe in reducing the role of government.
Download Presentation [.PPTX] or [.PPT - without embedded video]

Related Publications
Read two papers produced for the conference:
Outsourced Government – The Quiet Revolution: Examining the Extent of Government-by-Corporate-Contractor, June Sekera, Global Development and Environment Institute, September 2017

Freedom of Information Act (In)Applicability to Government Contractors, June Sekera, Global Development and Environment Institute, September 2017

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