Progressives for State-Sanctioned Corporate Monopoly


Last month, John Cole complained after his local water company dug a hole in his backyard without his permission. They were installing an outdoor water meter. When Cole asked why he was never told, the workers blew him off, and said they had a right of way. Never one to miss a chance to take a cheap shot at libertarians, Cole wrote:

If libertarians would focus on crap like this instead of all the smug bullshit and contrarian economic analysis, they might actually be able to build their party.

At the time, Mark Thompson correctly observed that Cole's conception of libertarians pretty clearly exists only in Cole's mind. This is exactly the sort of thing libertarians care about, focus on, and obsess over. Most of the successes of the Libertarian Party and of libertarian activists in general have come at the local level.

In any case, jump forward to this week. A Tea Party group in Fountain Hills, Arizona is protesting the city council's decision to eliminate the local market for trash collection. Instead, the town has contracted all garbage collection to a single company.

So here's a tea party group rallying around a local issue. What's more, they're protesting the local government's decision to grant a state-enforced monopoly to a private company. Seems like the sort of thing a good progressive like Cole could get behind, no?  Of course not. Instead, Cole mocks the protesters for their pettiness. Stupid rubes. Getting all excited over a local issue while there are pressing, national issues to address. Or as Cole put it, by way of a class-warfare non-sequitur, "This is how the American empire will end. With us rioting in the streets over the right to choose a trash collecter [sic], while the top 5% laugh all the way to the bank."

It's particularly amusing that Cole would evoke income inequality in this post. Perhaps he can explain how a  town taking business away from four trash collection companies in order to grant a city-wide monopoly to one brings us closer to his goal of an America where wealth is distributed more evenly. I'm having hard time figuring out how that would happen.

Cole weighed in again later:

Christ on a crutch. This was small "d" democracy in action, not nanny statism or "central planning" or whatever ludicrous term you want to bandy about. A local town council, elected by the citizens, sat around and viewed a bunch of bids for trash collection for their municipality, and then chose one private firm and outsourced it to them. This is not some faceless bureaucrat at the UN headquarters foisting his will on an unsuspecting population. This is not some slippery slope to the erosion of individual rights. This is subsidiarity in action, and if you find it too oppressive or too vulgar an imposition on your personal liberty, you can move, or you can work with like-minded people to elect new town council members and change the contract.

This is why no one with half a clue pays ANY attention to these abstract libertarian principles and the people willing to spend hours upon hours discussing them. The town council picked a company to pick up trash, and the teahadists freaked out and think it is socialism. End of story. The rest of us are pointing and laughing at them, and now you.

*** Update ***

My GAWD. I feel so violated. I'm going through my bills before the Steelers game and I just realized that Allied Waste is contracted to pick up my trash, so my personal liberties have been impinged by the creeping totalitarianism of nanny-statism. To show solidarity with the oppressed Fountain Hills trash protesters, I am going to dress up in my "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirt, stand at the edge of my driveway at dawn during trash pick-up on Thursday, and throw pocket constitutions at the sanitation workers. We shall overcome, patriots!

Where to begin? First, this issue is a hell of a lot more important to the residents of Fountain Hills than "some faceless bureaucrat at the UN headquarters foisting his will on an unsuspecting population." It affects them directly. They don't like the decision their local elected officials made, so they're protesting it. That too, is "small d democracy" in action. And it's the exact sort of local involvement in which Cole wrongly claims libertarians don't engage. (In Cole's world, though not the real world, "libertarian" and "tea party" are interchangeable.)

E.D. Kain, the lone voice of sanity left at Balloon Juice, tried to point out the errors in Cole's criticism. Most notably, if you think city officials customarily hand out contracts based solely on merit, considering only what's best for their constituents, and only after carefully considering a variety of bids, especially when it comes to sanitation, well, there's a man in a jumpsuit waiting at the diner who'd like to make you an offer that you can't refuse.

Of course, Kain was roundly chastised by Balloon Juice bloggers and commenters for his quaint naivete. How silly of him to actually think through this particular debate; to actually consider things from the perspective of the citizens; to question the idea that the public good, not self-interest, always motivates elected officials when they're granting contracts. This is Balloon Juice. You are to reflexively take the side that provides the most opportunity to mock libertarians and tea partiers. (By the way, my defense of this particular tea party group on this particular issue is in no way meant to imply my broad support for the tea party movement, or Arizona tea partiers in particular—a fallacy Cole regularly employs.)

Cole weighed in again in the comments to Kain's post:

You completely missed the point of my post, then. I'm not opposed to having choice in trash collection.

My point is that it is absolutely insane to blow a fucking gasket over this issue like what is happening in that town in Arizona. They elected a group of people, they sat around and thought things through, and came to a decision. Don't agree with it- fine! Elect someone to replace them and repeal the decision in a few years.

But what is insane is to riot about it.

There was no rioting. Go back and re-read the article from the Arizona Republic. There was organized protest. There was speaking out in a city council meeting. There were warnings that voters might hold Fountain Hills officials accountable for this decision next election. Yes, the protest has included some silly and overheated rhetoric. But certainly no sillier or more overheated than you'll find in a typical Balloon Juice post. In general, the protesters seem concerned that granting a monopoly to a private utility company could disrupt the garbage removal service that the people of Fountain Hills apparently believed the free market was providing pretty efficiently.

I don't want to put words in their mouths, but perhaps, perhaps, the Fountain Hills protesters are worried that the lack of competition in trash service could give rise to the sort of complacent service and disregard for customers that might cause, say, a water company with a government-granted monopoly to dig holes in a customer's backyard without first getting his permission.