Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Flint needs privatization.

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Sunday 1/31/16 Detroit Free Press writes about "Flint's long misery, at the hands of urban policy." Now the concept 'policy' usually refers to a set of rules or guidelines that a government or corporation uses to guide behavior towards achieving general or even specific goals. But the policy Mr Henderson refers to is not really a formal policy but rather the simple freedom that people have in order to live and work where they want to and the various forms of municipal government people select to live by. This last seems to be Mr Henderson's biggest problem - city governance.

But before he identifies the nature of this problem he cites Flint's sad history.

    "Just since 2000, the city has been on a painful, arduous slide--losing 25% of  its revenue from income and property taxes, 32% of the revenue sharing it gets from the state, 21% of its population and a staggering number of businesses and economic activity."

He points out more economic woes and admits that these

     "...followed the brutal years Flint spent watching General Motors pack its bags and walk away, leaving a jobless, isolated population to survive in a landscape bereft of economic stability or opportunity."

True enough and a common problem for many smaller cities and even bigger ones like Detroit. But notice how these problems are treated as the given, as if they had no causes. No mention of why GM left the city.
And now he gives us his view of the problems.

     "This is about cities themselves, and how Michigan's system of governing permits and even incentivizes the creation of poor, isolated urban centers that don't have enough population or resources to deliver services.
          This is about race and class, and the historic emphasis of suburban development on moving away from black and poor communities, stripping them of the tax base and other resources they need to survive."

Observe how this whole thing is framed as if it were a government designed , top down policy of governance. What else is the meaning of the phrase 'governing permits even incentivizes" citizens to move from the city to the suburbs? Evidently he would be in favor of restricting such freedom in some way. People generally move to the burbs to have a house with a yard, or to get away from the din of the city. Doesn't matter the reason. A just society guarantees such freedom.

So how does the government incentivize such suburban movement? By permitting the suburbs to have single family homes on a small lot and a picket fence? How would the policy makers de-incentivize that? The last sentence is revealing, "stripping them of the tax base and other resources they need to survive." People don't need tax bases to survive. Governments do. People need freedom. This is not about the survival of the citizens of Flint, but rather survival of its and the states' survival i.e. government control. Mr Henderson continues:

     "This is about broad policy questions we seem unable to even ask in earnest in the conversation about tax structure and cities.
     And it's about the frustrating ineffectiveness on both sides of the aisle, in leading any kind of re-think on urban policy."

'[T]he frustrating ineffectiveness on both sides of the aisle' is for sure. Neither political party wants to think outside the box of government providing everyone with their daily bread and water. (And when you leave that up to government, Flint is what you get.) One broad policy question the government and our intellectual pundits like Mr Henderson seem 'unable to even ask' is if you cannot afford to offer services then why keep trying to offer them?

When a family encounters hard economic times they cut back on the spending they normally do. Governments are not like that. They'll cut back on police and courts. They shouldn't. The provision of these is required by the Constitution. Politicians are loathe to cut back on economic services which are not required by the Constitution but which they use to get reelected (look what I did for you!). Again, survival of government control is the goal.

Mr Henderson goes on to talk about the richer suburbs surrounding Flint:

     "These communities have gotten stronger as Flint has gotten smaller and weaker--and because Michigan permits hyper-local governance, the separation among these communities, just miles apart, helps cement the poverty and isolation that have taken hold in Flint. Grand Blanc and Flushing, and the many other communities surrounding Flint, don't share tax bases, school districts, park systems or even water systems with the city."

Notice the new villain in town--hyper-local governance. This is of course referring to separate suburbs having their own governments, tax bases, school districts who are unwilling to share their money with the city.
He continues:

     "In other states Flushing and Grand Blanc might be mere neighborhoods under a government that oversaw the region; the relative wealth that keeps those communities stable would not be walled off from Flint."

Please understand the full meaning of this notion. Your right to move to a suburb with its own tax base and school districts and spend your money there is a form of injustice resulting in your money being  "walled off" from the urban city. It means that suburban governments must sacrifice some of their "relative wealth,"  because they have it. It must be given to Flint because they don't have it. This is an inverted political and moral principle. Creating and keeping wealth is to be punished. Destroying it, as has been done for decades in Flint, is to be rewarded.

What Flint, and all other cities, need is a massive dose of political and economic freedom. If a Flint citizen has a skill or talent that he could market, he should be free to hangout a shingle and go into business for himself and live or die by how well he makes his customers happy. But he can't today because he has to get numerous permissions from numerous government permission granters. This is contrary to America's founding principle that people are to be free by right and not by permission.

Mr Henderson concludes:

     "Most of all, it (inequalities between city and suburbs) would require us all to acknowledge the role of our beloved (!!) state, in our names, has played in creating the extreme inequalities that play out every day in cities like Flint.
     "If the tragedy in Flint isn't enough to spark reconsideration, on a large scale, I'm not sure what will be."

Unfortunately, it is not likely Mr Henderson or anyone on the Free Press editorial staff, will 'reconsider' the propriety of government controlling its citizens through regulations--instead of rights protecting laws. But it is critical that Flint residents learn from this. The things to be learned are:

1. Government can only be 'beloved' when it is strictly confined to protecting individual rights.

2. The proper function of government is "to protect these rights" to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not providing schools, health care, roads, bridges, golf courses or anything else.

3. Government has no skin in the game when regulating economic services like providing water, roads, schools, etc. Private corporations can be sued if they harm you. So can the government. But a private company will lose customers-and investors-meaning lots of money. The government will pay you not with their money but with you neighbors' money, and some of your own. Nobody in government will lose a fortune. Any bureaucratic wrong doing can be absolved with the magic words 'I care.'

4. Flint residents should put all such critical services on a free, unregulated market. Look at ipads, ipods, smart phones, tablets and such. Quality keeps going up and prices keep going down because the industry is less regulated than any other. Wouldn't you like to see that happen with water and other important services like schools, roads and so on?

It is now up to Flint citizens to reconsider its relationship to government.

1 comment:

Arlene Pearson said...

Accountability and responsibility... two words lacking in government bureaucracy when a problem arises. Excellent article describing the flaw in Mr. Henderson's thinking re: the role of government in fixing Flint's problem. It is privatization, not more government control and taking of the suburbs' or others' wealth, which will truly fix Flint's problems, including the recent water fiasco. Of course, before privatization comes a requirement for an understanding of free market benefits by the Flint residents, our state residents, and our politicians, which regrettably I don't see happening for a long time in the future, if ever, in our great state of MI and the city of Flint.