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Public-private split in political rhetoric is a figment of imaginations, not a practical reality

Our culture’s and media’s either-or mentality inaccurately pits the concepts of “public” and “private” at opposite ends of the philosophical mindset.  The practical reality is collusion, cooperation and interconnection of government with business and nonprofits.

Government subsidizes businesses to do much of their work: build roads, airplanes, bridges, weapons and much more.  Often the subsidies are from the revenue ledger of the budget in tax breaks, but some are through contracts with private industries for them to do the job.

Government also underwrites human services that are often done on contract by private nonprofit and faith-based organizations.  Usually these subsidies are seen on the expense side of the local, state and federal budgets.

For example, Heather Byrd, development and communications director at the Salvation Army in Spokane, said many programs have a small percentage of funding from government contracts.  Its program, Sally’s House, however, has half its budget from state funds that may be cut.

Since the program started in 2002, she said 1,600 children have come through its emergency foster care, where children ages two to 12 stay after Child Protective Services and law enforcement remove them from a dangerous home until a foster home is available.

That’s just one example from one nonprofit of how public and private programs intersect to help people.

Public and private overlap in a myriad of partnerships that the economy and society need in order to operate in a healthy balance that forms the nation’s infrastructure.  The Healthy Corner Stores are an example of government helping support retailers’ efforts to stock more healthful foods.

In these times when some would vilify anything “public” as tainted by its association with government, it’s good to go back to our roots.  Often the words “justice” and “general welfare” are twisted to seem unpatriotic, as if the only role of government is warfare—from which the private business sector profits.

At the Faith Action Network’s Fall Forum, a presentation on the state budget process included a reminder from the U.S. Constitution that the U.S. government is “to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Closing the forum, Whitworth University history professor Dale Soden encouraged churches to offer “gracious space” for members to offer the hospitality of listening with respect “in an atmosphere of mutuality and trust, willing to challenge each other to enter into conflicts to make things better.”

The intermingling of public and private might be a starting topic for discussions.

Mary Stamp - Editor


Copyright © October 2011 - The Fig Tree