The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.
There is an old joke about the Lone Ranger, who turned to Tonto and said, "We're surrounded by Indians," and Tonto responds, "What do you mean by 'we,' kimosabe?'" That same logic applies to policymakers who claim that "we're broke." It matters who is included in "we." We, collectively, have been gaining income and wealth and will continue to do so. "We," the broad middle class, have not been gaining wealth and have not received much of the income gains of the past 30 years. Whether the broad middle class prospers in the next 30 years does not hinge on whether there will be substantial income growth; there most definitely will be. The future prosperity of the middle class hinges on the economic policies and structures that determine how that income is generated and shared. Are our governments "broke"? They certainly face deficits. Taxation and revenues have diminished, both due to policy choices and the impact of the Great Recession. So, are we broke? Only if we choose to be.