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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Privatization Of Everything

April 16th, 2012

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Just in time for tax day comes another reminder that the race to privatize the public sector, particularly the infrastructure we all paid to build, is an exercise which provides consistently diminishing returns.

The Sun-Times reports:
"Under the $563 million, 99-year deal that privatized four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicago, City Hall made a promise:
It wouldn’t allow any parking facilities to open nearby.
That was six years ago, under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Today, though, you can park just a block away in a new garage at the 82-story Aqua building — and it’s cheaper, too.
That’s angered the consortium of investors who took control of the garages and thought they were safe from competition. Their group, known as Chicago Loop Parking LLC, has filed an arbitration claim against the city that could leave Chicago taxpayers on the hook for $200 million or more, documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show."
The story goes on to mention the legal mess Chicago is facing from one of Daley II's other privatization schemes, the wholesale turnover of parking meters (to what is also essentially Morgan Stanley, the controlling interest over the garages in the current dispute). They could have gone further and reminded everyone of the Skyway boondoggle. Or, they could have ventured just a bit to the East and examined Indiana's brewing privatization nightmare under Gov. Mitch Daniels.

But let's stop right here. I could catalog hundreds of examples from all over the country. This is just wrong in principle.

Supporters of privatization argue the real issue in this latest flap is that the city seems to have reneged on a legal agreement. With all due respect, this bargain was designed to create a territorial monopoly for an investment firm at the expense of the taxpayers who previously had already underwritten the properties. It was taxes that built and/or at least partially maintained these facilities. Now, Morgan Stanley is demanding that those same taxpayers pony up another couple hundred million dollars because a more efficient private corporation is offering them a better deal down the street.

This isn't rational finance. In nearly every instance of the privatization revolution, terms lasting as long or longer than the modern human lifetime are being doled out with anti-free market guarantees of exclusivity in exchange for dollar amounts that are only large enough to plug short-term budget holes.

This is akin to selling the store to paint the front door. And the taxpayer's formerly owned the store.

Had this parking garage deal been structured as something other than a one-time payment, it would come to a little over 5 and a half million dollars a year. If inflation were to stop dead in its tracks for the next century, it still wouldn't make sense. In fact it's nuts.

We can pretend to be a Capitalist culture all we want. That doesn't make it so. This isn't even worthy of being called "crony Capitalism."

This is Corporatism. Period.

This is also the new American "normal."

So...

As many of you file those last minute tax returns, just think what you might be paying for today that an organization like Morgan Stanley will buy for a song tomorrow. And then, for all intents and purposes, sue you for more.

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