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The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy Paperback – October 10, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The wholesale takeover of government services by private corporations is decried in this rousing, if not very rigorous, polemic. Labor activist and community organizer Kahn, author of How People Get Power, and feminist philosopher Minnich, author of Transforming Knowledge, regale readers with recent efforts to privatize Social Security, public schools and health care, welfare bureaucracies, army mess-halls and, especially, prisons. (Kahn runs Grassroots Leadership, an organization that fights prison privatization.) The authors contend that such initiatives are often predicated on efforts to drain funds from public programs in order to create the very crises that privatization purports to fix; and while privatization impedes public oversight and turns decent government jobs into low-wage makeshifts, they argue, it rarely boosts efficiency or reduces costs. Indeed, they insist that conservative privatizers aim to "destroy independent, democratic government itself"-to shrink the public sector where citizens can exercise their rights, turn it into a cash-cow for business interests and institute a quasi-fascist "merger of the power of the corporation and the state" that tramples individual freedoms. The authors present their arguments in a crowd-pleasing populist style flavored with general anti-corporate invective, satirical playlets and a big helping of Kahn's folk songs about the downtrodden. Unfortunately, the devil of privatization resides in the details, and the authors' inadequately sourced account skimps on the facts and figures that would lend some authority to their sermonizing. Kahn and Minnich mount a vigorous defense of the public good against the profit motive, but they would be more persuasive if their rhetoric didn't outrun their reporting.
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If you care about the future of our public democracy, please read The Fox in the Henhouse. -- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Like this excellent and timely book says, these days the foxes aren't just guarding the henhouse—they're on the inside. -- Jim Hightower, New York Times best-selling author and publisher of the populist newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown

The ‘ownership society’ really means you’re on your own. This book provides the exposé and ways we can fight back. -- Heather Booth, President, Midwest Academy

This book is a blunt, eloquent, and well-reasoned warning that the powerful forces of privatization are increasingly controlling our lives. -- Frye Gaillard, award winning writer in residence at the University of South Alabama

This book is a wake-up call for all who care about our democracy and the assault on public services. -- Larry Cohen, Executive Vice President, Communications Workers of America (CWA)

…A compelling discussion of the consequences of unbridled corporate power, and a thoughtful essay on the human condition. -- Philip Mattera, Director, Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First, and author of Inside U.S. Business

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (October 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576753379
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576753378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,435,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By an interested reader on January 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a frightening book. It's about a threat to our way of life, a threat the more menacing in that it's creeping up on us unawares and insinuating itself into every aspect of our lives, our schools, our health care, our environment, our democratic values and institutions. The strategy is this: claim a public system is failing, disinvest and otherwise make sure that it does fail, support and publicize private alternatives, then justify the shift from public to private by saying, "We had to do it because the public system was so terrible." It's happening with our schools, our prisons, our health care. The claim is, the private sector will do it more efficiently. The reality is, they do it for profit- and they're accountable to no one. We did not elect them. We don't even know who they are!

This book is an eye opener. No wonder we all go around feeling like we're losing control of our lives-we are. We're losing our country. The authors point out that the public sector has a pretty good track record, from the public hospitals we were born in, to the public schools, the community colleges and colleges, we attended, to the public highways we drive on and the public officials we count on to protect us-these institutions were not set up for profit, but to serve us. Corporations don't serve us. They serve themselves.

Unless we mobilize, we're going to lose it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn Beck on December 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this "must-read" book, Kahn and Minnich demonstrate persuasively that privatization is not a viable solution to public problems and is not an isolated phenomenon. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples, they argue that privatization is part of a corporate strategy to shift "public funds into private pockets," thereby creating the very problems it purports to fix. Although they see these growing efforts as a serious assault on our democratic rights and the public good, with this book they hope to reverse this trend by activating our spirits of resistance and cooperation. The embedded poems, songs and stories infuse the book with special richness and warmth.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mayra Bloom on December 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Attacks from the neocons come from so many directions that it's often hard to articulate an overarching/ underlying principle behind their agenda. Until recently, I might have identified "greed" or "desire for absolute power," as their byword, but after reading The Fox in the Henhouse, I'm inclined to agree that "privatization," in its largest sense is a crux of the problem. By reconceptualizing the notion of what is and ought to remain "public," Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich awaken us not only to the dangers of privatization, but also to the rights, the resources and the responsbilities that we have as members of the endangered public sphere. This is a vitally important book for understanding our current situation, for recognizing new threats, and for taking effective action.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Roberts VINE VOICE on May 29, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the outset, I must concede that I have a bit of a bias when it comes to the subject matter of this book. As a civil servant I've had to put up with the incessant drone of the Bush administration's propaganda machine as it extols the merits of A-76 studies. Every time I turn around I receive an e-mail @ work that tries to convince us how fair, just and blessed his privatization agenda is.

The problem is, I've seen myriad A-76 disasters; bait & switch tactics by contractors, egregious amounts of money being spent on useless studies, government workers being shafted no matter what happens, companies going bankrupt after receiving the contract and (most likely to happen) the contractor falling well short of what it promised in the original agreement. I do NOT need some bureaucrat in Washington telling me I didn't really see what I already saw!!

All the while, I kept thinking that surely someone out there must see the same waste / fraud / abuse in government contracting that I did. Thankfully, for once in my life, I was correct. Enter Minnich and Kahn. This book details many of the problems I already knew existed, but goes further in-depth than I have been able.

Some may be offended that the book portrays Republicans and corporate executives as voracious wolves who would eat their own young to turn a buck. The most surprising thing about this assessment is that it's accurate. Whether it's politically correct to call something what it already is, is entirely irrelevant.

George W. Bush is likely the most privatization-friendly president in history. He has nothing but contempt for government workers, and the sooner we're all out-sourced, the better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Newton Ooi on July 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Every time period, every era is marked by historical trends that occur too slow to perceive by most, but which result in momentous transformations in the makeup of society. I dare say that privatization is the biggest trend of the post Cold War era. Whether it is public utilities, telecommunications, police, correctional facilities, or even space exploration, the forces of privatization have slowly and gradually taken over countries on every continent. Privatization is also one of the least discussed issues in both politics, political science, and economics.

This book addresses how privatization affects democracy and democratic governments. The authors, veterans of numerous civil rights struggles, have written a short book laying out the case against privatization of many sectors of society, some of which were listed earlier in this review. The text is quite short for such a massive subject, and only privatization of three sectors of the economy are examined in detail; prisons, schools, and the US military. Brief mention is made of privatization of airport security, airport traffic control, water, and land. The book ignores privatization of scientific/medical research, financial regulations, power utilities, roads/transit systems, and a whole host of other sectors of the economy.

The style of the text is about one third fact, one third polemic, and one third philosophical reasoning. I was expecting this book to be a cross between a history book and investigative journalism. Unfortunately. it seemed to be a mixture of political propaganda and editorial journalism. As such, the authors offer too little factual analysis and too much commentary; basically a liberal counterpoint to Rush Limbaugh.
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