Monopoly on Professionalism


The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has launched a campaign to oppose the contracting-out of ATC services. One of their ads, which I just saw on CNN, urges viewers to call their representatives to oppose the policy "because safety belongs in the hands of professionals." Well, that certainly sounds like a good idea. But I hadn't realized that independent contractors were incapable of being professionals. I guess they were just going to pull random folks off the street to run the towers. Who knew?


NEXT: Paper Chase

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Like the man said…”you don’t professionalize unless you federalize.”

    When senators start sounding like Johnny Cochran, you know we’re pretty much screwed.

  2. Professionals do not join unions.

  3. Sadly, Gene, here in Madison Wisconsin we have the trifecta – a (1) union local that consists of (2)government . . . . wait for it . . . take a stiff drink . . . (3) lawyers!

  4. Damned skippy we oughtta privatize ATC… farm it out to the lowest bidder, by God. That’ll keep ticket prices down.

    I’m sure the mass tort plaintiffs bar will go for it… anybody else?

    Sure, sure, I’m being snarky. The market will fix any ATC companies that don’t measure up. Eventually.

  5. Snarky,

    So if you do not think the market can correct incompetent ATC fast enough, please tell how the current system corrects itself.

    The Canadians have privatised ATC and they don’t have planes falling out of the sky. Canada! They don’t even have indoor plumbing and they have competent private ATC.

  6. According to a John Stossel report Canada’s ATC system is privatized and runs very well. And I think their safety record is excellent too.

  7. He who hesitates is beaten to the post.

  8. God forbid someone quiting their gov’t job for a more lucrative private sector job.

  9. I don’t know much about this particular situation, but I have a general observation on government privatization:

    I worked for a summer at a Department of Energy lab several years ago. It was run by a private contractor. It meant that we had twice as much bureaucracy.

    Something like, say, janitorial services for gov’t buildings or whatever, something where there are many competing firms and one can switch contractors without too much hassle, is a good candidate for privatization. Competition can reap benefits, and there needn’t be too many redundant layers of management.

    Something, like, say, administration of a huge laboratory is different. There may be competing firms, but you can’t just hand over an operation like that to a new contractor as soon as the current guy screws up and somebody better comes along. The private contractor has to be thoroughly enmeshed into the government bureaucracy. The only meaningful privatization is to simply take the whole lab and toss it out into the private sector, severing all government ties. Otherwise, you might as well just keep it in government hands.

    I don’t know if ATC is (from a managerial standpoint) more like janitorial services or more like administering a huge lab bureaucracy. If there are competing firms out there, and crews could be swapped out with ease when the gov’t changes contractors, then by all means hire a private contractor. We’ll reap the benefits of competition. But if the only way to hand it off is to thoroughly enmesh the contractor into a larger bureaucracy, we’ll have twice as many layers of bureaucracy with none of the advantages of competition. In that case either amputate it from the gov’t or leave it alone.

    I don’t know which case applies here, but I think we should temper our zeal for private contractors doing government work. For many tasks, private contractors might simply add to the pre-existing problem.

  10. Personally, I don’t even like the term “professional.” It’s used by bosses to divide white collar against blue-collar workers. It’s an appeal to petty bourgeois status anxiety: “I get paid $20k a year to sit in a cubicle, and commonly work ten or twenty hours overtime–but hey, I wear a necktie to work! I don’t need no stinkin’ union, because I’m a PROFESSIONAL!”

    I’d like to revive the idea of the skilled trade and the sense of identity associated with it for white collar workers, and relegate the idea of “professionalism” to the Big Four: medicine, law, arms, and holy orders. Hell, even the universities were originally built on the skilled trade model. That’s why you have the “Master of Arts” degree.

  11. thoreau: I can’t resist…Let’s privatize ATC. Air routes operated like toll roads. Nice.

    I took the ATC test some years back. There seemed to be much swapability. One of the advantages to the job, for me, was the ease of geographic transfer.

  12. As a private pilot, I confess to some fear as to how this would play out. I already pay significant fuel taxes designed to pay for services like this. I do not buy the fiction that these “aviation trust fund” monies are in fact in anything other than the general fund.

    Nonetheless, it would be a severe hardship were the government to impose user fees without a concomitant rollback of the fuel taxes for aviation fuels.

    As I don’t think I’ve actually seen a tax repealed in my almost 40 years on this Earth, you can see how I might worry about that.

    I would love to see the government out of the aviation business completely, but I’ll settle for not having to pay twice for the same things.

    Despite the fact that NavCanada seems to be in financial difficulties, I have to admit that their services on a recent trip were exemplary.

    The bill wasn’t unreasonable either. That’s the other concern that the smaller aviation customers have. I think it’s important to pay for what one uses, but a restructuring does provide an opportunity for certain airspace users to attempt to rewrite the rules to disfavor other users.

    That doesn’t invalidate the laudable goal of privatization, but it is a valid concern.

  13. The mantle of “professionalism” is usually used to limit entrance into a particular profession. Sometimes it’s necessary (e.g. Medical “professional”); however, more often than not it’s used to create an “old boy/girl network.”

    Take the field of journalism for instance. It used to be that the profession of reporter was something that a writer did to feed themselves as they wrote their “great american novel.” However, in this day and age, the only way to get even a low level jounralism job for a suburban newspaper is to poscess at least a MA in Journalism with honors. (Or be a close relative of another in the media profession. In my observations, nepotism runs high in America’s newsrooms.) The academics I’ve met and talk to claim that this leads to a higher quality of news media.

    The truth is, given for what passes for reporting these days, a trained monkey can report and write the news. The “professional” media has got in their collective heads that THEY are the elite and only want to have their sort of people (i.e. with the same educational/cultural/political backgrounds) in their business. The news could be written by monkeys, but the newsroom snobs don’t want to work with Bosco or Chim-chim.

    (Yes, I have a journalism BA and I haven’t found a full time career where I can use it. Sour grapes? You betcha…but it’s still true)

  14. Kevin, those “big four” are probably the professions with the most dishonesty!

  15. as a fellow journy BA (well, journalism/poly sci – how wasteful!) recipient working in PR, i feel you on that…but…that sort of attitude varies from publication to publication quite significantly. there’s always going to be this sense of shouting at a public which either doesn’t listen or is too stupid to care, but the degree of arrogance (and excellence) is quite varied.

  16. “the only way to get even a low level jounralism job for a suburban newspaper is to poscess at least a MA in Journalism with honors.”

    I wonder about this… my degree is in philosophy and political science (I took a handful of undergrad jounalism classes), and I know plenty of other folks at political mags here in DC with similar backgrounds.

  17. what was chevy chase’s degree in “modern problems”?

    for the journy people, how much pressure is there to spin the story to the taste of the editor? consider the anti pharma articles in the NY Times, a simple fact check would reveal that they’re taking liberties with interpretations, for example. how much is that to sex up the story for ratings? (kinda like Tom Skilling’s forecast. he talks a good game about isobars, but he’s usually the farthest off the actual weather)


  18. Professional means that you’re expected to work even against your own interest for the interest of your client. I don’t know that competence is necessary. You could imagine a professional astrologer, telling a client that they don’t need another reading so soon after the last one; and an unprofessional one saying yes of course you need one. Competence doesn’t come in. Substitute your favorite brand of expertise for astrologer. The expertise will be shown to be wrong in a hundred years anyway, yet the professionalism will not.

  19. EMAIL:
    DATE: 02/01/2004 06:01:31
    People are exponentially funnier when they’re in rant mode.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.