UK paperback

The private sector

‘Boomeranging words’ and ‘semantic discipline’

Oh hi there, Ralph Nader!

Ever wonder what’s happening to words once they fall into the hands of corporate and government propagandists? Too often reporters and editors don’t wonder enough. They ditto the words even when the result is deception or doubletalk.

Yep!

Here are some examples. Day in and day out we read about “detainees” imprisoned for months or years by the federal government in the U.S., Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. Doesn’t the media know that the correct word is “prisoners,” regardless of what Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld disseminated?

Yep! (Cf.)

The raging debate and controversy over health insurance and the $2.5 trillion spent this year on health care involves consumers and “providers.” How touching to describe sellers or vendors, often gouging, denying benefits, manipulating fine print contracts, cheating Medicare and Medicaid in the tens of billions as “providers.” I always thought “providers” were persons taking care of their families or engaging in charitable service. Somehow, the dictionary definition does not fit the frequently avaricious profiles of Aetna, United Healthcare, Pfizer and Merck.

Nice!

“Privatization” and the “private sector” are widespread euphemisms that the press falls for daily. Moving government owned assets or functions into corporate hands, as with Blackwater, Halliburton, and the conglomerates now controlling public highways, prisons, and drinking water systems is “corporatization,” not the soft imagery of going “private” or into the “private sector.” It is the corporate sector!

Good point!

Oh, you know, read the whole thing?

8 comments
  1. 1  Dagonet  September 9, 2009, 9:11 am 

    I agree with your first two points, but disagree with the third one.

    There is a clear distinction between the public sector, ie the state, and the private sector, ie the citizens and their enterprises. Corporations are clearly part of the private sector, just as much as single entrepreneurs or workers’ cooperatives.

  2. 2  Steven  September 9, 2009, 9:17 am 

    I think Nader’s point on this one is contained in his phrase “the soft imagery of going ‘private’” — in other words that the term “private” itself is already positive and reassuring (who is against at least some privacy?), and possibly also contains an inherent implication of small scale; so that it functions as a rhetorical soother when used to describe massive rapacious corporations etc.

  3. 3  Dagonet  September 9, 2009, 9:25 am 

    Nader’s third point, not yours, sorry.

    The phrase’s function as rhetorical fabric softener does deserve to be criticised, that’s true.

  4. 4  Alex Higgins  September 9, 2009, 4:47 pm 

    There is a clear distinction between the public sector, ie the state, and the private sector, ie the citizens and their enterprises.

    Is there?

    In what sense does the state not belong to citizens while corporations do? How is the public sector not my enterprise (I’m a teacher) while a corporation is?

    And I don’t remember Microsoft or British Gas or Thames Water giving me a ballot form, though I can’t avoid using their products. In what sense are they at one with the citizens?

  5. 5  Dagonet  September 10, 2009, 12:28 am 

    Corporations are owned by their shareholders, who can buy and sell those shares as they wish. Citizens do not own a part of the state the way they would own a piece of property. They do have certain (political, in a wider sense) rights and duties arising out of their citizenship, but those are different from the rights arising out of a property title or a contract.
    When you say that, as a teacher, the public sector is your enterprise, you mean that it is the sector you are working in and care for. It does not mean that you own it, the same holds true for people employed to private companies.
    Microsoft, British Gas and Thames Water (assuming that the latter two are corporations) are at one with the citizens as they all interact (mostly) as equal-righted parties within the private law system, whereas to the interactions between state and citizens or between state and corporations which take place (mostly, again) within the public law system.
    You are right, though, that especially with regard to public goods (eg utilities) delivered by private companies a clear distinction between private and public sector can be difficult.

  6. 6  Steven  September 10, 2009, 11:01 am 

    When you say that, as a teacher, the public sector is your enterprise, you mean that it is the sector you are working in and care for. It does not mean that you own it

    Is it your view, then, that the common phrase “public ownership” is an oxymoron?

  7. 7  Dagonet  September 10, 2009, 11:48 am 

    I find that phrase misleading, yes.

  8. 8  Gregor  September 17, 2009, 11:01 pm 

    Of course there is a whole school of unspeak around the concept of ‘small government’ but really, it is so deeply ingrained that it would be a sisyphean task to disagree.

    Still, I cannot help but notice that it seems increasingly common to call the BNP a ‘left wing’ party because they support renationalising the railways.

    Given how dismal British railways are under private ownership (though subsidised with vast amounts of taxpayer money) it seems almost amusing that bringing the railways back into public ownership is a fringe position, yet with our politicians spineless against neo-liberalism, it sadly is.



stevenpoole.net

hit parade

guardian articles


older posts

archives



blogroll