The massive amounts of money America’s rich spend to keep from paying taxes seems as irrational as it is obsessively ideological. There’s something creepily cultish about it. This week’s massive leak of corporate-written model legislation from the Koch brothers-financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has further exposed the depth and breadth of the corporate capture of what was once billed as government of, by, and for the people.

Grover Norquist, the once enfant terrible of the Right, has for years promoted the idea that taxation is theft. He has likened progressive taxation to the Holocaust. Yet so long as those tax dollars flowed their way, there were certain features of “big government” that oligarchs liked just fine – defense contracts, bank bailouts, for-profit prisons, etc. But this new breed of conservative has taken Norquist a step further. Now, if the tax dollars aren’t flowing their way, they seem to view it as theft in terms of lost opportunity cost. Why have low-paid enlisted men perform military housekeeping tasks that can be farmed out to KBR at a markup to taxpayers? They have moved beyond free-market fundamentalism into for-profit zealotry.

For people so concerned with keeping the government’s hands out of their pockets, the ALEC documents reveal that they have spent quite a lot of effort on getting their hands into yours. The Center for Media and Democracy describes ALEC’s public education efforts as an attempt to turn education into a “private commodity rather than a public good.” Charter school expansion is at the top of the agenda, and ALEC-inspired charter school bills have passed this spring in several states. Charter school chains are poised to move in. Public subsidy of charter companies like White Hat and Imagine Schools means private profit not only from state tax monies but also from complex sale-leaseback arrangements on the valuable real estate, private development subsidized at public expense or acquired through eminent domain.

The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.

Why are millionaires and billionaires targeting public education? For the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street wanted to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Horton robbed banks.

Answer this question: What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?

Writing in Harpers, Jonathan Kozol wrote,

Some years ago, a friend who works on Wall Street handed me a stock-market prospectus in which a group of analysts at an investment-banking firm known as Montgomery Securities described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools. “The education industry”, according to these analysts, “represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control” that “have either voluntarily opened” or, they note in pointed terms, have “been forced” to open up to private enterprise … From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, “the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada”.

The animus toward public education isn’t really about big government. It’s about corporate America’s insatiable appetite. Big government is just fine by them so long as public money is flowing their way. It’s the rest that is wasteful spending. What they want now is a piece of the action from remaining large blocks of public funds, like Social Security and … public education.

From this perspective, it’s bad enough that states are not providing education on at least a not-for-profit basis. But it’s far worse than that. They’re giving it away! That’s a mortal sin. A crime against capitalism. The worst kind of creeping socialism. Hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent every year in a nonprofit community effort to educate a nation’s children, and the moguls are not skimming off the top. The horror.

So just as the business community tried with Social Security, there’s a massive effort to convince America that there’s something wrong with the public being involved in public education. If the public cannot be convinced, corporate-funded groups like ALEC obviously consider state legislators a softer target.

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Tom Sullivan

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