Since the 1970s, the DeVos family has been quietly advancing a plan to make government act more like a private business. Now, they appear ready to take the next step.
“[Among] her big ‘accomplishments,’” says Diane Ravitch, the N.Y.U. professor and respected education historian, “have been reversing civil-rights enforcement for kids with disabilities, putting administrators from for-profit colleges in charge of monitoring for-profit colleges . . . stabbing in the back young people with heavy debt for their college education, and being a constant critic of public schools.” Samuel Abrams, director of Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, says that DeVos has used her position as a “bully pulpit” to advance the belief that “society doesn’t exist; only individuals and families. We accordingly should not be surprised that she has pushed for minimum standards at public school and cut funds for everything from career and technical education to teenage pregnancy prevention. For libertarians, she’s a godsend. For the rest of us, she’s a wrecking ball.”
The election of Donald Trump has given us a new Gilded Age of privatization, profiteering—and self-dealing. Witness the administration personnel feeding greedily at the public trough: among them, Health and Human Services czar Tom Price and E.P.A. administrator Scott Pruitt (both now gone), not to mention Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner—who last year made at least $82 million in outside income while serving as White House senior advisers. But the most ambitious privatizer in Trumpworld—with the largest vision—has been Betsy’s brother, Erik Prince.