When I began my work life, the outsourcing trend was picking up steam in the United States. I no longer recall who it was, but some guy allegedly came up with the idea of using the phone book to break up his company. If he could find a company that did a task currently done in-house, he outsourced that task to a vendor. That was probably apocryphal, but it was a useful story. Why do something in-house when there was a local specialist, who could do it better and probably cheaper than you?
To a point, it made a lot of sense. Why would a baker own a fleet of trucks when he can lease them from a company that is expert at maintaining delivery trucks? The baker can focus on his specialty and the truck repair people can more efficiently maintain the bread trucks. Even in cases where there is no direct savings, outsourcing allows for a greater focus on core competencies. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but it is something you heard a lot in the 90’s as companies unbundled themselves.
This was also the driving force behind Al Gore’s project to “reinvent government” by moving tasks from the Federal workforce to private contractors. There was a book published in 1993 that was the text book for government reformers. All over the country, private firms now exist to serve one customer – the government. There are firms around the Imperial Capital that exist solely for the purpose of fulfilling a specific contract. Once the contract expires, the firm will be dissolved or “reinvented” for a new contract.
Of course, there is another aspect to government outsourcing that is different from private outsourcing. In the private sector, the baker can be good at maintaining his bread trucks, if he chooses to put the energy into it. Government is rarely good at anything, so off-loading work to the private sector promises to get around the bureaucracy, especially when it comes to things like work rules. In theory, the government contractor is free to do what is necessary to get the job done, while government is tied down with endless red tape.
This sounds good, but it has curdled into something sinister during the communications revolution. Big tech companies now police speech on-line, doing what government cannot legally do itself. Human resource departments evolved to enforce workplace conduct rules that the state cannot easily enforce. The government can’t tell the males to be nice to the girls at the office, but they can threaten to sue the company for maintaining a hostile workplace, so the company does the state’s bidding.
Now we are about to see this concept taken to the next logical step, as the Trump administration prepares to outsource the war in Afghanistan. The plan is to have contractors like Blackwater, take over the logistics of fighting the Taliban. They would provide an air force and thousands of “contractors”, who would develop and lead militias made up local tribesman. The “contractors” are former soldiers. We used to call these guys mercenaries, but that term has fallen out of fashion for obvious reasons.
The article frames this as a cost saving move, but the most likely reason to consider doing this is the contractors can do things we no longer allow our military to do. Blackwater can also recruit a militia from whatever local forces they like, which probably means the most ruthless killers available. Put another way, there’s a realization that the US military has become an inefficient and clumsy giant of a bureaucracy, just like the rest of the federal government. Blackwater will be more efficient at executing this never ending war.
This is not without precedent. Governments have relied on private armies and private security forces since the dawn of time. The American West was often policed by hired guns, simply because they were available and willing to take the work. The Pinkertons were a security force used by the government and rich men. Lincoln used them for his personal security. The railroad used them to infiltrate the Molly Maguires and they were used in the famous Homestead Strike. Guns for hire are not new to America.
Still, this is a bit different and looks like another facet of the modern Servile State. Just as the state has outsourced its coercive functions to private companies, it is now outsourcing its violence to a private company. If Trump goes in for this, you can be sure that a hundred other firms will spring up with plans to do paramilitary work around the world on behalf of the US government. That’s the thing with outsourcing. Supply has a funny way of creating demand where none existed. Private war will now get its own SIC code.
Eisenhower famously warned about the military-industrial complex and he has been proven right. The Cold War was used to justify endless spending on the war machine. Then it was terrorism. Now we have an empire to police, in addition to the millions of hostile foreigners our government imports into our lands. There’s always some reason to keep shoveling trillions into the war machine. Now the war machine will have libertardian economists singing its praises as an efficient new innovation.
This is not a new problem. The Romans had this problem with their own armies, as well as the Praetorian Guards. America is not in danger of the military seizing control of the state or making demands on the civilian rulers. That’s because the gazillionaire global corporations got there first. Those same corporations are now taking over the policing and war making roles of the state. In the custodial state, the throne and alter will be divided once again, with the state serving as the altar and global oligopolies as the throne.