Americans pride ourselves on having the best quality of life, the best political and economic system, the best future for our children. But does that mean our union is perfect? Now, more than ever in my baby-boomer lifetime, it seems urgent to ask ourselves some tough questions.

Why is it that many basic goods like electric power are provided by private, profit-making companies? Why are essential services like public education being gobbled up by wealthy entrepreneurs? Is it because the private sector always operates more efficiently and cheaply than the public sector? Or is it because benevolent-sounding “public-private partnerships” can pick off public infrastructure starved by tax cuts to benefit Big Business?

A case in point: the Rockland-area school district is struggling to provide a decent education, while the state of Maine spent nearly $25 million this year on nine private charter schools accountable to out-of-state corporations. Our former governor cut taxes for the wealthy, ignored the state mandate to fund public schools and enthusiastically handed a big chunk of our education budget to politically connected cronies. Enabling legislation was backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch brothers group that pushes state-level policy favoring privatization and reduced regulation. It was written by a for-profit Virginia company called K12Inc.

According to the Portland Press-Herald, K12Inc’s Maine Virtual Academy has a 49 percent graduation rate and a 33 percent absentee rate, far worse than most public schools. While Maine spends $12,197 per pupil for traditional public education, the cost per pupil at charter schools ranges from $6,895 to $10,662. They’re skimping on everything from teachers to toilet paper.

K12Inc must have a healthy bottom line, since it funneled $19,000 to the LePage reelection campaign through the Republican Governors Association PAC. Some call this crony capitalism; I call it an outrage. Our students deserve better than to be used as cash cows.

Then there’s electric power. We’ve heard all we need to hear about how CMP has ripped us off, failed to provide adequate repairs, raised our rates and treated us like annoyances, not customers. We’ve also learned how much it has spent on lobbyists in Augusta, how much it has contributed to political campaigns, and how it has exerted influence over the PUC. But of course, money is speech.

Something is seriously wrong here. Is this really what we want for Maine, and for America?

Scott Nearing was a much-beloved economist, thinker, writer and “back-to-the-lander” who lived out many of his 100 years in Brooksville. He was prescient when he wrote in 1949: “Step by step, the economy has passed from individual to corporate ownership. Year by year the stranglehold of Big Business has tightened on the economy and on the country, until a point has been reached at which a rich, powerful minority owns, controls and dominates the American scene.”

But wait, you say, isn’t the private sector more efficient than a bloated public works program, inevitably full of those lazy, shifty public employees? Well, no. According to a 2014 study by the British Public Service Research Institute, “The results are remarkably consistent across all sectors and all forms of privatization; there is no empirical evidence that the private sector is intrinsically more efficient.” A host of privatization studies done in developing and developed nations alike comes up with the same conclusion: the idea of greater efficiency in the private sector is a myth.

Nearing makes a lot of sense when he calls for “the collective public ownership and administration of those parts of the economy which are of common concern to the community as a whole.” His reasoning goes like this: “The interests of the individuals who own the commerce are inherently opposed to those who are working to produce profit for the owners. So there is an inherent conflict between those who own for a living, and those who work for a living. The owner class knows this conflict poses an existential threat to their future. So, every time they’re being challenged or they predict that they will be challenged, they try to divert public attention to a different perceived threat.”

Those words ring as true today as they did in the post-World War II years. Back then, even President Dwight Eisenhower had to say that the interstate highway system was a national security measure so that he wouldn’t be called a socialist.

I think there are a lot worse things to be called.