A difference between private and public

Leave a comment

Just to keep things politically balanced, Jay Bookman’s print piece today, posted several days ago in electrons, is a worthy companion to David Brook’s piece posted here yesterday. I’ll leave you to make the intellectual leap to any analogies about schooling.

Jay’s piece can be found at http://blogs.ajc.com/jay-bookman-blog/2012/07/09/a-test-of-morality-on-a-florida-beach/ – 600+ responses and counting – some will no doubt make for some interesting reading.

Print title: Nature of corporations laid bare by a lifeguard.

9:25 am July 9, 2012, by Jay

Why can’t you run a government like a business? Why is a corporation NOT a person?

To both questions, I would offer the same two-word answer: Tomas Lopez.

While the name may not be familiar, his story probably is. Last week, Lopez was fired from his $8.25-an-hour job as a beach lifeguard in Hallandale, Fla., because he left his guard station to help save a drowning swimmer in a nearby “unprotected” swimming area. (The rescued swimmer was later hospitalized in intensive care but is expected to make a full recovery.)

“We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area,” company supervisor Susan Ellis said in explaining the decision to fire Lopez. In addition, the company fired two of his fellow lifeguards who had said that they too would have rescued the struggling swimmer.

“They sat me down and told me that my answer will determine if I get to keep my job or not,” 20-year-old Travis Madrid told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “When I told him I would do the same thing, they told me I was dismissed.”

From the employer’s narrow point of view, its actions are perfectly understandable. As we are often reminded, a business has a single mission: produce profit for its shareholders. A corporation has no obligation to produce jobs, offer health insurance to its employees or provide other socially useful functions. In this specific case, the saving of a human life outside the boundaries of its protected area had no value to Jeff Ellis and Associates and could only bring negative consequences in the form of potential lawsuits. So the company was within its rights to fire the employee who had put it in that situation.

Viewed from the perspective of a human being, however, the situation looks much different. If Lopez had honored company policy, remained at his post and watched a drowning man die, it might have eaten at his conscience for the rest of his life. “It was the moral thing to do,” Lopez said later. “I would never pick a job over my morals.”

The situation also looks different when viewed from the perspective of government rather than business. Government’s essential purpose is to serve people, even the hapless swimmer who chose to venture beyond the protected swimming area. The mayor of Hallandale, Joy Cooper, said she was horrified by the actions of the company, which has had a contract to provide lifeguards to the town’s beaches since 2003.

“I know people across the country are as outraged as I am,” Cooper said. “This doesn’t reflect our culture. We are a small, caring community.” Cooper and others have promised a review of the decision to privatize its lifeguard services, noting that the city’s contract with Jeff Ellis and Associates ends this year. The incident has provided a reminder that while privatization has its uses, the highest goal of a private corporation is not the performance of public services but the provision of profits.

Toward that end, Jeff Ellis and Associates has belatedly recognized that its business interests might be threatened by its own bottom-line fixation. Last week, the company announced that it had offered to rehire Lopez and other lifeguards who had either been fired or left the company voluntarily in the wake of the incident.

Lopez has declined the offer.

Corporations or businesses are not by any means inherently evil; to the contrary, they provide absolutely essential functions in a capitalist economy, and many are run in ways that attempt to mimic good citizenship. They are, however, inherently limited in their perspective and purpose. They are single-purpose human inventions, that purpose being to produce profit, and as Tomas Lopez reminds us, profit is not the highest and best goal of the human spirit.

– Jay Bookman


The Opportunity Gap

Leave a comment

David Brooks is a true conservative as I learned what that is in my so long ago philosophy undergrad minor. He shares few of the abject insanities of the current political climate, and is one of the few of such ilk I can count on one hand I always read with anticipation. What he writes here is especially petrifying to me as it further lends fuel to my own paltry interpretations of the data.  Cheers. On the bright side, WE are a small cog in the wheel of the positive side.

It’s at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/opinion/brooks-the-opportunity-gap.html?_r=1&emc=eta1.


p-Ed Columnist

The Opportunity Gap

Published: July 9, 2012 575 Comments

Over the past few months, writers from Charles Murray to Timothy Noah have produced alarming work on the growing bifurcation of American society. Now the eminent Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his team are coming out with research that’s more horrifying.

While most studies look at inequality of outcomes among adults and help us understand how America is coming apart, Putnam’s group looked at inequality of opportunities among children. They help us understand what the country will look like in the decades ahead. The quick answer? More divided than ever.

Putnam’s data verifies what many of us have seen anecdotally, that the children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities. Decades ago, college-graduate parents and high-school-graduate parents invested similarly in their children. Recently, more affluent parents have invested much more in their children’s futures while less affluent parents have not.

They’ve invested more time. Over the past decades, college-educated parents have quadrupled the amount of time they spend reading “Goodnight Moon,” talking to their kids about their day and cheering them on from the sidelines. High-school-educated parents have increased child-care time, but only slightly.

A generation ago, working-class parents spent slightly more time with their kids than college-educated parents. Now college-educated parents spend an hour more every day. This attention gap is largest in the first three years of life when it is most important.

Affluent parents also invest more money in their children. Over the last 40 years upper-income parents have increased the amount they spend on their kids’ enrichment activities, like tutoring and extra curriculars, by $5,300 a year. The financially stressed lower classes have only been able to increase their investment by $480, adjusted for inflation.

As a result, behavior gaps are opening up. In 1972, kids from the bottom quartile of earners participated in roughly the same number of activities as kids from the top quartile. Today, it’s a chasm.

Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.

It’s not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached. Social trust has fallen among all income groups, but, between 1975 and 1995, it plummeted among the poorest third of young Americans and has remained low ever since. As Putnam writes in notes prepared for the Aspen Ideas Festival: “It’s perfectly understandable that kids from working-class backgrounds have become cynical and even paranoid, for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them — family, friends, church, school and community.” As a result, poorer kids are less likely to participate in voluntary service work that might give them a sense of purpose and responsibility. Their test scores are lagging. Their opportunities are more limited.

A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world. Working-class jobs were decimated, meaning that many parents are too stressed to have the energy, time or money to devote to their children.

Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings.

The political system directs more money to health care for the elderly while spending on child welfare slides.

Equal opportunity, once core to the nation’s identity, is now a tertiary concern. If America really wants to change that, if the country wants to take advantage of all its human capital rather than just the most privileged two-thirds of it, then people are going to have to make some pretty uncomfortable decisions.

Liberals are going to have to be willing to champion norms that say marriage should come before childrearing and be morally tough about it. Conservatives are going to have to be willing to accept tax increases or benefit cuts so that more can be spent on the earned-income tax credit and other programs that benefit the working class.

Political candidates will have to spend less time trying to exploit class divisions and more time trying to remedy them — less time calling their opponents out of touch elitists, and more time coming up with agendas that comprehensively address the problem. It’s politically tough to do that, but the alternative is national suicide.