The Destruction of American Democracy – “Privateering” Is Hard at Work

A little background:
During the first hundred years of our country’s history, the spoil, or patronage, system was used to fill government jobs. Getting a job was based on political patronage and not on ability to perform. This lasted until 1883 when the Pendleton Act created a bipartisan Civil Service Commission and started a transition to awarding jobs based on merit. By 1900, only the senior positions were left as spoils to the victor.

In 1939, the Hatch Act was passed and prohibited federal employees from participating in politics. The Supreme Court upheld the act in 1947 and 1974 and Congress tried to drop the acts limitations in 1987 and 1990 but failed.

(Profiteering – A term for the act of making a profit by methods considered unethical.)

(Privatizing – The transfer of any government function to the private sector including governmental functions like revenue collection and law enforcement.)


From chapter seven of George Lakoff’s The Political Mind:

Privateering is a special blend of privatizing and profiteering. Privateering is the surreptitious destruction of the government’s capacity to carry out its critical moral missions of protection and empowerment. It is accomplished by privatizing government functions which results in the loss of public accountability and the transfer of wealth from the public coffers to corporations. Each instance of privateering damages the foundation of our American democracy.

Privateering requires:

  • Someone in the government, an enabler, that is willing to eliminate a government/public function
  • The transfer must be by surreptitious means such as by budget cuts, executive orders, signing statements, reassignment of regulators, purposeful lack of enforcement, putting lobbyists in charge of government agencies, no bid contracts, etc.
  • Someone in private industry, a provider, must accept the government function
  • The transfer must be arranged surreptitiously between the enabler and provider.
  • There needs to be something to transfer like military functions, monitoring food and drugs, product safety, interrogating terrorists, disaster relief, or providing good education for all citizens.

Privateering has consequences:

  • Profit becomes a key part of the process. When conflicts arise between profit and performing the transferred public function, the public will suffer.
  • The public becomes a captive market and profit will grow to whatever the market will bear. Some may not be able to afford the cost.
  • Wealth is being transferred from tax payers to wealthy corporations while services that should have been provided by the government are reduced or lost altogether.
  • Each act of privateering removes accountability to the public and robs us of our democracy.

If you take privateering to the extreme, the government’s moral mission to protect and empower all citizens is transferred to private enterprise which will only protect and empower those that can afford the high costs. Our “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” are subjugated to high profits and we will all pay what is asked or do without for a service the government should provide. Corporations become a surrogate government but with no accountability to the citizens.

One notorious example of privateering is a military for the highest bidder – Blackwater/Xe. Xe has tens of thousands of mercenaries and pays them in the neighborhood of $450,000 a year. They claim they can put as many as 20,000 ‘troops’ on the ground on short notice. Xe has made billions of dollars on the Iraq Occupation and two thirds of that has been through no bid contracts. All of this, and more, was paid for by we the people without any accountability to us for any actions by Xe.

Privateerng has also eliminated or replaced non-profit governmental drug, food, and environmental inspectors with high paid inspectors employed by the corporations who’s products they are inspecting. According to George Lakoff’s The Political Mind, these biased corporate inspectors have “fudged reports” for Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck and citizens have died as a result.

As privateering has grown during recent decades, citizens have been poisoned by peanut butter and spinach. Again non-profit based government inspectors are eliminated or replaced by Congressional budget cuts, while leaving food inspection to food importers and producers where profit supersedes public protection.

Additional privateering has eliminated or replaced inspectors at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The result is the importation of millions of toys containing lead based paint.

Privateering is central to our nation’s health care. Only here, instead of destroying it as an existing non-profit government function for protecting citizens, it is already in private hands – hands that deny care to assure a profit.

Privateering is destroying America’s democracy by eliminating our governments moral mission to protect and empower all of its citizens. Privateering is supplanting that moral mission with protection and empowerment of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The protection provided by existing government agencies is being eliminated or replaced by self-serving for-profit corporations that give short shrift to citizen protection or, as in the case of health care, are being kept with self-serving for-profit corporations that give short shrift to citizen health. Maintaining health care privateering prevents government protection for all citizen’s lives – some 46,000,000 at last count.


20,000 Americans Die Each Year
Because of Privateering


Other Privateering realities:

Privateering results in spending more on defense contractors and spending less on corporate regulation. Both put profit first while ignoring accountability to and protection of citizens.

Privateering implies an ‘inefficient’ government is being replaced by ‘less bureaucratic’ private enterprise. Privateering doesn’t remove government from the process, it replaces it with an unaccountable government that costs significantly more.

Without war, Blackwater can’t make a profit, without denying care, health insurance can’t make a profit.




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About Andy Hailey

Vietnam Vet, UT El Paso Grad, Retired Aerospace Engineer, former union rep, 60's Republican now progressive, web admin, blogger.

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