Don’t privatize the CDC

DON’T PRIVATIZE THE CDC…. Extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) is basing much of his platform on trying to privatize everything he can get his hands on. The right-wing Colorado lawyer, for example, boasts about his plans to privatize Social Security, and if possible, even Veterans Administration hospitals.

But if we’re inclined to draw lines to protect some government services from this ideological extremism, I’d like to think the Centers for Disease Control would be free from privatization. Buck doesn’t seem to see it that way.

During a March appearance on the Aaron Harber TV show, which airs on Denver PBS station KBDI, Buck discussed how wasteful and inefficient the federal government is and said, “I don’t believe that the federal government runs anything more efficiently than the private sector. […]

Harber then asked about privatizing the National Science Foundation. Buck replied it would be better to have industry work with the science foundation rather than have the government run it alone.

“How about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?” Harber asked.

“Absolutely, again, partnering with private foundations, private hospitals, states and local governments, far more efficient than … having the federal government run something…. I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t get health care or that we shouldn’t have a function in our country like CDC. What I’m suggesting is that … folks that are in control of that program, if they’re in the federal government, are going to be a lot less efficient than if they’re in the private sector.”

The Buck campaign has responded to the remarks, which have begun generating more attention in Colorado this week, arguing that Buck didn’t say he’d privatize the CDC, only that the CDC would be better if it were under private control with private-sector employees.

That ought to clear things up.

Note, Buck has no evidence that the CDC is inefficient or unproductive now; it’s just that he has an ideological crusade to fight. The CDC may be operating flawlessly, but that’s not the point — Buck doesn’t care what works; he cares what’s conservative.

Karl Moeller, executive director of the Campaign for Public Health, noted, “There are certain roles for government and excellent ways the private sector can support disease control and prevention, but controlling disease outbreaks and assessing health risk and determining whether heart disease is spreading … or on the decline is really not something the private sector can ever really do.”

Or would really even want to do. If there’s a mumps outbreak, there’s not much of a profit margin for private industry. When a flu vaccine needs to be distributed, there’s not much of a profit margin, either. It’s why we created the CDC in the first place — it’s a public agency designed to help public health, whether it’s profitable or not.

Last year, Paul Krugman noted, “[B]oth sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods — goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (there’s no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.) The classic examples are things like lighthouses and national defense, but there are many others.”

Yep, and I thought the Centers for Disease Control and a public-sector defense against the spread of chronic and infectious diseases was one of them. The U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado seems to have a very different perspective.