Politico has an article about the US buying rocket engines from a sanctioned Russian government-owned company. Seems like a poor idea to outsource something this important to an adversary. Politico doesn’t really get at how this happened, though. In conversations with a number of people, I’ve found that they, like the Politico reporters, just accept that of course the government outsources as many functions as it can find buyers for. That’s not really a good idea, as we see in this case.
One of the things I do on Twitter is what some call tweetstreams. I don’t think there’s a standard name for them yet, and that’s the one I like. I did one this morning on this topic. Here it is. It’s an important part of my argument, so please read it.
I worked for a national laboratory before the privatization mania hit, so I can recall a time when it was thought right and proper for the government to maintain certain capabilities. Defense of the nation: the military was run by the government. Now we have the mercenaries called contractors as well as the regular military. Imprisonment was felt to be a government function; no more. Utilities like water and electricity are a more mixed bag, but the government’s ability to make sure they are available to all citizens has been curtailed. The purpose of the Post Office was to make sure communications were available to all citizens; the purpose of the USPS is now to make a profit, after the more profitable parts were sold off to Federal Express and UPS. Those are some of the big ones.
The companies that do defense contracting, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have only one customer, the government. That is called a monopsony, and it leads to pathologies, as monopolies do. Those companies are captives of the government, and their profit is added on to what it would cost the government to do such things in-house, so the “logic” proferred thirty years ago, that companies can do it cheaper, is turned on its head. As it was thirty years ago, but ideology prevailed.by