By Dr. Jim Saunders
Inasmuch as I have of late publicly derided Mr. Romney’s campaign, premised as it has been on his superior knowledge of business and economic matters, I am writing here to make equally public my withdrawal of my erroneous jeers. I have previously stated that in my view Mr. Romney’s experience was of the same character as that of Bluebeard, Captain Kidd, Black Bart and even at times Captain Hook. I envisioned Captain Romney at the helm of the Bain, Jolly Roger flapping high on the mainmast, closing in on smaller ships, his crew swarming aboard, removing all of value, cutting down their sails and leaving them to founder.
I was wrong. My error was twofold. First, in that law sanctioned Captain Romney’s actions, and second, in that I had no evidence that Bluebeard or any of the others deemed themselves qualified to be President of the United States. I should more properly have said that Captain Romney was a privateer. Like Barbarossa, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and others given letters of marque by their own or other governments.
Privateers were licensed by governments, while pirates were not. Pirates stole for their own wealth, paid no taxes, and buried their treasure on foreign shores. Privateers took from foreign ships and returned their treasure to the governments who had commissioned them.
I see now that my prior characterization was simplistic. Captain Romney does not fit neatly into either category. Nonetheless, serving as Captain of the Ship of State is far different than standing at the helm of the Good Ship Bain, telescope in hand, looking for ships to plunder.
We Americans have experience with privateers.
Today those who decry the growth of government wish to outsource government services from education, to policing, prison management, the military, water services and waste management. They may not realize that American government outsourcing began before the nation was founded, when in March 1776 the Continental Congress, not having a navy at its disposal, enacted a process to commission privateers to support the American Revolution. Unlike present legislators, that early Congress created uniform rules of conduct for these “private contractors” and required them to post bonds to guarantee their proper conduct.
Today our government purchases services estimated to cost the taxpayers* at least twice what it otherwise cost to have those same services provided by the government. At the extreme (one hopes) is the example of contractor services in the Iraq war, where individual contractors were reputedly hired for ten times the cost of having American GI’s perform the same functions. But I digress, or do I?
Consider the prospect of government run by privateers, or a privateer-in-chief.
We cannot expect Congressional control of the contracts, or letters of marque, nor meaningful oversight of such a privateer. There would be no monetary bond to ensure proper conduct.
Today’s privateers seek to be less constrained than the 18th century variety. Those armed merchants risked their ships their own wealth and their lives as privateers. They served their governments by disrupting enemy commerce in time of war.
Today’s privateer has turned away from attacks on foreign ships to attacking the ship of state and his fellow countrymen. The breed has weakened considerably in the past 236 years. Nowadays privateers risk only other people’s money, well-being and lives. If we were fortunate enough to escape walking the plank, we would surely be sailing into uncharted and likely very dangerous waters.
Imagine the United States with a President who has spent his career finding businesses with many assets and relatively less cash flow and who has made his fortune acquiring them, selling off their assets, dismissing their employees, pocketing the cash and putting it aside in an offshore account. What could he do for the country from the Oval Office?
He might want to stop the waste in Washington. One place to start might be at the Smithsonian Institute. The nation derives no income from it. It’s filled with collectables that could be sold to the Saudis or others with more cash than they can use. Across he National Mall, the National Galleries contain countless artworks that could be auctioned off to private museums or to moneyed collectors. The Washington Monument does nothing, generates no income and could be leased out or sold to private communications businesses. Leased space for microwave repeaters and cell phone transmitters and receivers could surely generate considerable revenue for its now owners. The National Mall itself should be sold off. The real estate is priceless and lobbyists could build high-rise towers for the offices and for luxury suites to save them time commuting back and forth to Capitol Hill.
The National Parks offer another opportunity. They should be set aside for new and productive purposes. Perhaps they could be used as giant movie lots for the making of survivalist reality shows for television. Some might be stocked with wild game imported from Africa or Asia, to provide new hunting opportunities for Saudi princes and jaded European nobility who dislike the heat of the African continent. The government could license private industries to issue hunting permits. All those unnecessary game wardens and park rangers could be laid off. In addition, the government could save further cost by not regulating any of these new businesses.
The entire military system could be outsourced. We have historical precedent for such a decision. We had Colonial privateers on the seas, before America was a nation with a navy. During the Revolutionary War we benefited from the talents of General Gilbert du Motier (the Marquis de Lafayette), Polish-Lithuanians Colonel Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko and General Casimir Pulaski, as well as the Hessians.
Such a move would not only avoid an unpopular draft, it would save the government untold billions in operational costs. Assets removed from foreign soil, or new taxes on America’s poor and middle classes could provide funding. Those unable to pay additional taxes could volunteer for military service to satisfy their indebtedness due to taxes. We have precedent for this too, dating back at least to the arrival of George Soule on the Mayflower. He paid the debt for his passage to the New World by indenture to fellow Mayflower passenger, Edward Winslow, who later became Governor of Plymouth Colony.
Of course, we’ve already begun the process of outsourcing the military, first to National Guardsman and later to Blackwater USA, which after a series of camouflage name changes is now known as Academi. Organizations like this cannot only provide contractor military services, but also avoid the additional expense of swearing in officers and troops to uphold the Constitution. Since the Supreme Court has recently set aside much of that document, the oath is much less needed now than formerly. If the government pays them enough, they may not seek a higher bidder for their services.
Certainly, additional cost could be avoided and further revenues gained by continued outsourcing of jobs by American businesses. Finally we may avoid the cost of primaries and general elections, first by severely pruning the ranks of the electorate, and ultimately by outsourcing the vote to corporations.
It seems that a candidate with experience in buying and dismantling businesses would be a natural for the job.