The Common Good Must Not Be Privatized For the Sake of Profit

The Common Good Must Not Be Privatized For the Sake of Profit January 30, 2018

Route_2_repairTime and time again, we often need to be reminded that we cannot justify the means of an action merely by the intended goal. This is because by our deeds, we often show we have questioned, or outright denied, this basic moral truth. This is especially true by people in positions of authority. They are all too quick to look towards a given goal, seeking what will make it happen; they give in to the temptation of power, thinking that the good which they accomplish more than justifies whatever harm they may have caused along the way to that good. When political talk is all about accomplishments, about the goals which have been achieved, without any reflection on how those objectives were attained, by our silence, we give way to the error of consequentialism; we must never stand silent, even if the good which is presented to us appears to be great, when that good comes at an even greater moral cost.

Obviously, if the intended goal is wrong, such as happens when racists promote a racist ideology within the government, discriminating against those who are not shown favoritism, the evil intention can be and must be simply rejected. We still should observe the means and explain why the means are also wrong, because this will help in discussing the means when the objective appears to be good. For then we will be able to see why a good objective, a good end, does not mean a true good has been accomplished; the good which has been ignored in its execution, the good which has been rejected, must be considered and examined and connected with the objective as well. The means by which the good is accomplished will tell us if the good is truly good or not. The goal must be a right end with a right means. In other words, the goal must not be seen independent from the means; a proper means must be a part of the goal.

When discussing the government, the good which is intended should be a good for all, and therefore accomplished with the good of all in mind. If some are neglected, or indeed, if some are forced to unjustly suffer for the sake of some particular end, then the goal is not the right goal. It might imitate a good goal, by having something common with a right objective, but it is not the good; rather, it is its doppelganger, taking over and replacing the right goal with its simulacrum. Such a changeling is common in the political sphere. Injustice is often confused for justice, and justice for injustice. Those who have been harmed by injustice often are told their desire to have the wrongs righted will requires others to suffer, and so their demands cannot and must not be met; however, the truth of the matter is that those who will suffer from the righting of the wrongs are those who have unjustly gained from the wrongs and so it is not needless or unjust suffering to have them pay back what was not their due.

Public goods should be established and created with justice by the government for the common good. Take, for example, the infrastructure of a nation. It is important, indeed, necessary for the common good that the infrastructure is not only kept in good repair, but also to be upgraded and developed to deal with the changing needs of society. It is a public good, and should be treated as such, as something the government works upon, repairs, and keeps in good form. The means by which this is done should be just. If and when governments turns it, an actual need, into an opportunity for private enterprise, whereby the infrastructure is sold out to the highest bidder to make toll roads, affecting the average person and hindering the use and access of the infrastructure as a whole, then the good is not being accomplished. The public would find that their public good has been taken away from them; it would become a private good in which some benefit and some of those who need access to it find themselves incapable of such access. Infrastructure must be kept a public good, worked upon and by the government, for the common good.

What is true about the infrastructure is true about many other public goods. The transformation of the healthcare system into a private good demonstrates the harm which has been accomplished when justice is ignored and private good is promoted over the common good. As we can see with the healthcare system, with the pharmaceuticals, greed takes over, having many people suffer needlessly by the profiteering which emerges. Public lands, such as national parks, which are places of natural beauty where the public should be able to go and relax, finding peace and serenity, should not be put up for sale to the highest bidder, making such natural goods once again the exclusive claim of a few.  Education, likewise, suffers as a result of turning a public good into a profiteering system, because the goal is no longer the good of the student but of those who make money on them.

Certainly, in the short term, it can seem like the public good is being promoted and aided by the private sector. This is how and why those who sell out the public good often seem to be right in doing what they have done. They take the short-term gain, say they have been proven correct, ignoring all the long-term consequences, blaming them on others if and when they have to deal with the ramifications of their policies.  Thus, when the private sector comes in and helps the government with the infrastructure, roads might indeed be repaired, bridges might be fixed, but it will come at a great cost for the average person using them; indeed, as the costs for use go up, fewer people will be able to use them. Certainly, the private companies will be able to point to the work which was done and say that the goal had been achieved, but in doing so, it will ignore the true and proper goal in order to get away with this sleight of hand. The road needed to be repaired so that the public could use it. The real goal should be an infrastructure which the whole public can put to use without burdening them each and every time they use it; the roads might be repaired, but, if the cost is too high, they will not be able to be put to use, making the situation worse than before. Previously, the infrastructure, while in bad shape, could still be used; after, it is not available to the whole public, but to those with the means to pay for its use. The poor will find their movement, their freedom, even more limited than before. The common good will no longer be common; the community will find itself in an actual deficit as a result.

When dealing public needs, it is important to list the problems facing society. But it is also important to consider the solutions being offered, rejecting outright those which undermine the common good. The means by which projects will be undertaken must be examined. Its long-term implications for society must be discerned. Are public goods being taken out of the hands of the public? Are the elite rich being given preference over the needs of the ordinary citizen? If so, then the so-called solution is no solution; a need is being used as a pretense for grave harm. The public deserves better. The public must demand better of their leaders. And when their leaders will not listen, they must resist.


[Image=Repair of the Mohawk Trail after Hurricane Irene by Ericshawwhite (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]


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