It’s one sentence in a 1,244-word article, but it made me pause and think deeply.
The article was a guest essay in the New York Times about the rise of Sweden’s far-right political party, which was created out of a neo-Nazi group and resembles the increasingly Trumpian Republican Party with its hatred of immigrants, journalists, and others.
The sentence: “Once one of the most economically equal countries in the world, Sweden has seen the privatization of hospitals, schools and care homes, leading to a notable rise in inequality and a sense of profound loss.”
That makes me wonder: How much has privatization contributed to soaring far-right populism, white nationalism, and fascism in the U.S.?
In Sweden, argues journalist and author Elisabeth Asbrink, high levels of political and economic inequality leaves people looking for answers to why they’re suffering and who is to blame—and far right leaders are happy to provide them.
“It was better in the good old days, [those leaders] say, and people believe them,” Asbrink writes. “Back to red cottages and apple trees, to law and order, to women being women and men being men.”
As we have documented, the privatization of public schools, water, and other public goods increases inequality. Government contractors create new fees for things like delinquent tax payments and probation. They lower wages and benefits for workers. Privatization also has helped shred crucial parts of the social safety net, like Medicaid.
Scholars have argued along these lines for some time now. “Neoliberalism creates a failed democracy,” says cultural critic Henry A. Giroux, “and in doing so, opens up the fascists’ use of fear and terror to transform a state of exception into a state of emergency.”
But I think it’s important to highlight the role of privatization—something embraced by both parties for the past 40 or so years.
A Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, recently endorsed private school vouchers, which would take public money from the state’s lowest funded public schools and give it to private schools.
Like privately operated charter schools, private school vouchers might help some students, but they leave most of the others behind in public schools starving for resources.
Conservatives have long pushed for such privatization schemes, and Democrats have too often joined them. Meanwhile, America’s far too many underfunded schools continue to suffer—with policies like charter schools and vouchers only making things worse.
And we wonder why “Make America Great Again” resonates with so many people.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.