Tag Archives: equality

The Role of the Public and Private Sectors in the Good Society

Governments are increasingly reliant on private sector principles for the provision of public services.

The city government of Santa Barbara allows prisoners to upgrade their accommodations. For a mere $82 per night, detainees have access to a private cell, separate from the general population, and are permitted access to a greater variety of entertainment—ipods, computers, and so on.

In Washington, DC, lobbyists now pay homeless people to wait in line to get access to key committee hearings.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, private military contractors outnumbered military personnel on the ground and provided the vast majority of reconstruction efforts and service delivery in support of the US military effort.

In this TED Talk, Michael Sandel describes this as a “quiet revolution” in which we have slowly moved from having a market economy to becoming a market society.

On one side, fees for public services provide incentives for better service and introduce a greater level of efficiency in the public sector. Toll roads, for example, force individuals to balance the value of their time against the greater cost of driving the toll road. But Sandel argues that the introduction of market society undermines the inclusiveness of public life, facilitates inequality, and crowd out the “public good” from public life.

What do you think? Do market solutions to public service challenge promote more efficiency in the public sector or undermine the promise of inclusiveness and equality in the United States? Do you agree with Sandel’s argument presented in the video? Why? And what are the unintended consequences of such policy changes?

[This article was previously published at the Election Center blog and is reprinted here with permission.]

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The French Burka Ban

A French Muslim woman wears a niqab.

A French Muslim woman wears a niqab.

The French National Assembly last week approved by a vote of 355 to 1 a measure which would ban women from wearing the burka and the niqab in public places. France is home to an estimated 5 million Muslims, or 6 percent of the population. An estimated 2,000 French Muslims wear the niqab. The less-restricted hijab, or headscarf, was banned from public schools in 2004.

Violation of the new ban would be punished by a fine of €150 ($190) and a mandatory citizenship course. Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or burka would be punishable by a year in prison or a €15,000 ($19,000) fine. A spokesperson for the government described the religious garb as “a new form of enslavement that the [French] Republic cannot accept on its soil.”

The ban enjoys considerable support among the French public, which approved of the measure by an 82 to 17 percent majority. Polls indicate that strong majorities support similar measures in Germany, Britain, and Spain. Two-thirds of Americans oppose such a measure.

Although the French measure still must be approved by the upper house and will likely face a constitutional challenge, the ban has already provoked considerable discussion. Blogging at Big Think, David Hirschman argued that claims that the measure was intended to protect women  may actually wind up intensifying discrimination against Muslim women and further isolate and alienate French Muslims. In a rare moment supporting the French, Peter Worthington blogging at the conservative Frum Forum strongly supports the measure on the grounds of national security.

But among the most interesting has been Gideon Rachman’s blog at the Financial Times. For Rachman, the ban evokes questions of liberty that transcend both sides of the debate. For the ban’s supporters, the measure represents an effort to ensure the liberty of women, striking a blow for “republican values” like equity. For those who oppose the ban, the measure infringes on the individual liberty of women who choose to wear the niqab. Rachman’s solution is to develop a compromise in which face-covering veils in state-run locations like schools and government buildings. Like most compromises, however, Rachman’s solution is likely to displease all parties in the controversy.

So does the French ban protect or violate the civil liberties of the women it affects?