Public vs. private: the war of the new world is within the State

Let’s analyze a few types of misfortune we need to keep an eye on in the near future. They’re not on the agendas of governments globally, and this is exactly why we need to discuss them now. Let’s go in order of notoriety. Technological changes have the potential to cause huge amounts of damage. Why? On one hand, we know that technological innovation creates added value but on the other we tend to forget the consequential job losses resulting from automation and artificial intelligence. Therefore, we need to make certain that the balance of expansive evolution of articficial intelligence in the labor world doesn’t lead to terrifying scenarios that are currently only captured in Hollywood science fiction movies.

Climate change is also very dangerous, also because the majority of the global population– especially those living in the most polluted areas, ironically– have no idea how tragically dynamic the situation is. In addition, no illuminated entrepreneur (like Elon Musk, to be clear), with all their fantastical solar solutions and plans for alternate habitats on Mars, is sufficiently confronting the potentially catastrophic consequences.

Then, there’s the end of the “Nation-State” concept. What, you might say? I’ll explain: enormous complexes of corporate interests have seeded political puppets to mine the democratic constitutions of Western countries. How? Let’s consider an example: bankrupting the public sector and allowing mass fiscal evasion; it’s institutionalized corruption on a global scale, with obvious concomitant results. Fighting this apocalyptic trifecta would require global coordination, but at this point the institutional bodies are too under financed both in terms of economic and human resources. In fact, large capital investments in research are missing, and the best professionals in the workforce– as necessary as water to these difficult themes– are busy elsewhere. It’s an apocalyptic situation worsened by the paradox that large investments are wasted badly. How many billions of dollars have been spent in the Middle East to combat terrorism without any appreciable result? If these same sums had been invested in a new Manhattan-style project focused on the climate, if drones had been used to monitor geothermal energy resources and oil wells, then the general public would better understand climate change problems, making them more manageable.

In the face of this extremely dangerous trifecta, we can summarize the story: society is becoming too complex– politically, ethnically, religiously, and technologically– to be managed without very high levels of sophistication. On the contrary, public organizations don’t have the necessary funds to evolve and modernize, therefore we are witnessing an increasingly sophisticated civil society in the face of public apparati that are less and less capable. Because today, all over the world– or almost (we’ll note the only exception below)– being employed in the public sector means earning less money. Inevitably, the best professionals prefer to work in the private sector where paychecks are higher.

Therefore, we’ve arrived at the fourth epochal challenge that no one is talking about: the war between public and private. Thanks to decidedly more sophisticated legal structures that are prepared and respected compared to their public opponents, many defendants get away with their crimes. In fact, the SEC’s, the Fed’s, and the FDIC’s lawyers on Wall Street don’t stand a chance against their highly prepared and paid counterparts working for the private financial industry. Also because an organization like the SEC might have five lawyers while any bank like Goldman Sachs has at least 25. Apple is able to prevent the decryption of their users’ messages– like in the case of the San Bernandino killers– intimating an imposing legal and technological barrier to the search for truth on behalf of federal authorities (who count on mediocre and underpaid employees) in the interest of their phone’s safety and the relative global business.

Due to an almost insurmountable gap caused by the maximum stipend being capped at $170,000 in the public sector while analogous roles in the private sphere are worth millions, it’s useless to ask where the best professionals choose to work. The examples are sadly emblematic, like the case of Timothy Geithner, 75th Treasury Secretary of the United States, man of a million resources who spent a lifetime in the US public apparatus and who, at 50 years of age, chose a position as president of Warburg Pincus, a Wall Street private equity fund.

Pay close attention because a dramatic mechanism is generated in this way that damages the public good. Which is to say, a hateful feudal system, in the sense that a young person’s maximum ambition when entering the public sector is to accumulate a load of experience to spend after two or three years from the other side of the barricade in the private sector, being very careful not to make his counterparts hate him because in the best scenario, they’ll be his future employers. The terrible theme in this principle is that today, the public good is subordinate to private interests. Or maybe even worse: the public good is hostage, on a ladder that descends into the abyss of hypocrisy and ends in the hell of corruption.

If this is the situation overseas, in Italy the situation is the following: the registry of crimes in the Milan Tribunal is still recorded by hand. How can we even think to modernize, reduce, and render public spending more efficient without making enormous investments in information technology? How can we think of reducing the public apparatus when we’re still faced with 18th century procedures while the world races forward?

In the meantime, the exception that confirms the rule is Singapore, one of the richest countries in the world where the public sector– an evident case of great wellbeing produced with the good management of the “res publica”– is better than the private sector. How is this possible? It’s simple. A minister, functioning according to the responsibilities he assumes, can earn $2 million per year: therefore, the most talented don’t choose the private sector. In fact, generally, Singapore is internationally renowned for its efficient state and not a single private enterprise except for Singapore Airlines (which belongs to the state, in any case).

Unfortunately, Singapore is an inimitable example, if only because of its reduced dimensions. And on an international level–and obviously even more in Italy– the role of the state needs to be rethought, its fundamental functions once again represented by the national elite. But current remunerative tendencies won’t allow it. This is why the spirit of Aldus Huxley’s 1932 novel, Brave New World, is more relevant than ever: “the perfect dictatorship would have the appearance of democracy, a prison without walls in which the prisoners would not dream of escape, a system of slavery where, through consumption and entertainment, slaves would love their servitude.”

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