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In Praise of Big Government

In Praise of Big Government

Events on the ground in Iraq post-Operation Iraqi Freedom have not painted a pretty picture for the Coalition of the Willing, but some of the worst stories, for those who still passionately believe in the virtues of government, have received little press here.

For instance in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, cleverly entitled “Thanks for the MREs” columnist Paul Krugman noted that four months after the fall of Baghdad, unknown numbers of soldiers were still on “the dreaded MREs: meals ready to eat”.

And it gets worse. “Letters published in Stars and Stripes and e-mail published on the Web site of Colonel David Hackworth (a decorated veteran and Pentagon critic) describe shortages of water. One writer reported that in his unit, “each soldier is limited to two 1.5-litre bottles a day”, and that inadequate water rations were leading to “heat casualties”. An American soldier died of heatstroke on Saturday; are poor supply and living conditions one reason why US troops in Iraq are suffering such a high rate of noncombat deaths?” Krugman asked.

And why is the most efficient military the world has ever seen, with a reputation for always having superb logistics, seemingly unable to deliver on these essential basics? Krugman says the answer is a mix of penny-pinching and privatisation.

The US military has contracted out many tasks traditionally performed by soldiers into the hands of private contractors like Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary, with its notoriously close ties to the Bush Administration. So when some of those contractors got spooked by the thought of being in a war zone, US troops in Iraq were forced to suffer through months of unnecessarily poor living conditions because those they were depending on simply failed to show up.

Why do so many pundits and critics continue to push the line that the public sector is always less efficient than the private sector, and therefore that anything the private sector can do instead of government, they should and must do? It hasn’t worked out all that well here, as our story about the way changes to government accounting rules have distorted the mission of the public service shows.

Now I happen to passionately believe in the role of government, and in the virtues of those public servants who are dedicated to protecting that role. When the public service allows itself to be politicised, it’s not just the people it is letting down, it is the very system of democracy itself.

To hell with the ideologues. Haven’t they screwed us over enough?

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