Kip’s Law Sighting: Trash Collection Edition

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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141 Responses

  1. Joel says:

    I’m going to put on my Don Draper hat. “What?”Report

  2. trizzlor says:

    That’s not to say that everyone, everywhere should favor the free market approach to tax collection. This seems too clever to be a Freudian slip.

    Your emphasis on “wants” over “needs” seems mainly syntactic. My guess is that Atrios does not “want” dozens of competing garbage trucks lumbering through his neighborhood at odd hours is because they create a danger to pedestrians and general traffic and muck up the pavement. To put it in your lingo, his “need” for a safe neighborhood and minimal municipal road repair very well can outweigh your “want” of an ideologically pure trash-collection system (which is what started this whole debate, or as ED put it – “there is certainly a principle at stake”).

    Debate team shenanigans aside, I would like to know what you and other consider to be the line that cannot be crossed on socialized services. Every once in a while I do see posts here promoting some socialization (rail, catastrophic healthcare) but not really a coherent ideological position across the board and this ephemeral motivation of “choice” isn’t that convincing. On the other hand, Atrios’ theory can also be stretched to it’s limits with, say, a National Grocery Store: low-cost food is a right not a privilege, grocers are already increasing costs due to redundancy in shipping, a socialized system could be used to better enforce the trans-fat and sodium bans, etc. etc. Where do the progressives and liber-al-tarians fall on this?Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to trizzlor says:

      The League does not pretend to have a coherent ideological position, nor is there any desire to have such a position that extends across contributors.

      With regards to your substantive points, however, the issue here is not a question of whether there are situations where a group may justly calculate that the benefits of single-provider trash collection outweigh the benefits of a free market in trash collection. I do not pretend for one moment that Atrios’ calculations, as applied to his particular situation, are anything other than entirely reasonable.

      The trouble is that he is pretending that his calculations and preferences are valid across all jurisdictions and for all individuals and that those calculations and preferences are inherently entitled to priority over any alternative calculations and preferences without regard to local conditions.

      We are not debating here whether it is preferable for whatever jurisdiction Atrios lives to have a free market or a government-approved sole provider – I have absolutely no idea, and trash collection has never been anything other than a matter of local policy.

      Instead, we are debating whether it is possible for a set of circumstances to exist where his calculations and preferences are simply invalid and whether that invalidity exists in this particular case. On the first question, the answer should be quite clearly “yes,” and my competing examples – which are not hypothetical but are in fact real, and hardly uncommon – demonstrate why: as applied in those examples, choice allows me to ensure reliable garbage service (READ: no danger of garbage sitting on the sidewalks for weeks, creating a public health hazard) without any real issue of noise or traffic or road degradation, while in my friend’s case, the lack of choice prevents him from ensuring reliable garbage service (READ: regular occurence of garbage sitting uncollected for excessive periods) without any major reduction in noice or traffic or road degradation. Is my locale’s system marginally less efficient? Quite possibly – but not in any way that causes people in my area to complain.

      So this is not simply a question of theoretical ideological preferences set up against a host of negative externalities but rather a question of actual benefits provided by having a choice (and thus the right to change trash collectors if my current one is unreliable) versus a set of negative externalities that may change dramatically from locale to locale.

      As to the second question – I have no idea. But neither does Atrios. I get that there’s also perhaps an issue in this case of recycling (which does not necessarily exist in every case), but that issue isn’t referenced in Atrios’ post, so it’s not really relevant to my argument here which is a specific response to him.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        There are two points here that continue to get conflated: A. Is having the choice to decide on a trash-collection scheme a good thing (initial choice); and B. Is choosing a private competitive trash-collection scheme over a single lowest-bid a good idea (continuous choice).

        The first point is so self-evident as to not merit debate: yes, it’s good that the folks living in Fountain Hills are allowed to elect representatives, and that these representatives can have committee meetings to decide municipal trash policy, and that in five years they can re-evaluate this policy or re-apply it. I don’t believe anyone in this debate is arguing against representative democracy or banning competitive private trash collection (as opposed to not subsidizing it).

        The second point, however, is the one that ED defends over the majority of his initial post. And here he gets quite a few things about choice quite wrong. In the same absolutist tone you criticize, he claims that having a competitive system necessarily keeps innovation up and price down – a point Atrios is disputing by appealing to the problems that having many competing collectors would yield.

        Additionally, ED wrongly claims that the government is instituting a monopoly when it decides on a single bidder for the next five-year contract. In fact, the people can repeal the policy; elect new leaders to change it; disengage in five years; or simply pay into their own competitive private firm that offers a superior or niche service.

        The claim that the left-o-sphere is getting heated over is that government must always support continuous choice, and that the Fountain Hills Tea Party is correct in their griping because continuous choice is always good.

        Of course, it doesn’t help that John Cole’s post spurring this debate is pretty much incomprehensible.Report

      • joe from Lowell in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        “The trouble is that he is pretending that his calculations and preferences are valid across all jurisdictions and for all individuals and that those calculations and preferences are inherently entitled to priority over any alternative calculations and preferences without regard to local conditions.”

        No, he’s defending the sense of this group – the town – which decided to go with one trash collector. Did you miss that part? The group, the town, voted to support this.

        So you really don’t get to argue from the position of mean ol’ Atrios being the central planner here. YOU, sir, are the one who would impose your opinion on this community, against its will.Report

        • Actually, it was the town council that voted for it, not the town itself. Second, I’m explicitly not taking any position on the merits of the town’s decision. Why? Because I don’t live there, and have no idea as to the particular problems and values of this particular town. But neither does Atrios, who is making a very absolute and unqualified argument and who makes no attempt to limit it to this particular town.Report

          • Dave S. in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            Actually, it was the town council that voted for it, not the town itself.

            Time to borrow the Draper hat from Joel and the “debate team shenanigans” tag from trizzlor. What? I call debate team shenanigans. The town council represents the town and acts in its name. Or is representative democracy not a legitimate form of government?Report

            • Mark Thompson in reply to Dave S. says:

              Oh it’s entirely a legitimate form of government. But the impetus behind this whole rabbit hole was the fact that the policy appears to be inducing a surprising backlash amongst the relevant population.Report

              • Aaron in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Which is well and good, but doesn’t get the to central point that the underlying issue (the town council granting a contract to a single company for municipal trash collection) is entirely legitimate. As was point out, it’s not as if the Congress passed a law requiring all trash to be collected by one national corporation. I would be very curious to hear the libertarian answer to how atomized “choice” has to be. As has been pointed out, having multiple trash collection corporations running around entails substantial external costs.

                So, I see the situation as this: local town council contracts with a company for service. They have a five year contract. Tea partiers cry, “This is taking away my freedoms!” What I would present is: no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t take away your freedoms at all. A substantial portion of the population is unhappy about the situation, which, fine, whatever. However, it’s not as if they don’t have means to redress the issue: vote out the town council, go to council meetings and influence the process, write letters to the council and to their local paper. This is not an issue that takes awa anyone’s freedom — unless “freedom” is to be defined in an almost incoherent and useless fashion.

                To say nothing of the fact that, in all likelihood, the exact same people who are complaining about their “freedom” to choose their garbage collection are prefectly happy to restrict someone else’s freedom to marry and engage fully in civil socitey. Motes, eyes and beams and all that.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

                Is peaceful assembly and/or petitioning the government for redress of grievances one iota less legitimate than a government colluding with a corporation?

                “To say nothing of the fact that, in all likelihood, the exact same people who are complaining about their “freedom” to choose their garbage collection are prefectly happy to restrict someone else’s freedom to marry and engage fully in civil socitey. Motes, eyes and beams and all that.”

                Oh, well, so long as it’s those people engaging in those things, we don’t have to worry about whether this is an issue that touches upon Incorporation of the First Amendment.Report

              • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

                I have no problem with them gathering together to make their voices heard — indeed, I believe I advocated for that. My point was more that this is all in the normal course of events and not, in fact, a significant diminishment of their freedoms.

                Whether or not they are hypocrites certainly doesn’t take away their 1st Amendment rights — it should, however, take away what credibility they have to make any sort of argument from first principles.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

                Well, before I deal with your answer, can I get how you voted on the last 4 or 5 ballots?

                I’ll also need your opinion on the major issues in other states. (e.g., Prop 8, Prop 19 if you don’t live in California, El Paso County’s 1A if you don’t live in Colorado, Amendment 6 if you don’t live in Florida, and so on.)

                I’ll also need opinions on most of the Supreme Court Cases since 1920 or so. Please pay most attention to Wickard v. Filburn, Korematsu v. United States, Jones v. Mayer, Bowers v. Hardwick, Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, South Dakota v. Dole, and, of course, Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. (This is not a comprehensive list!)

                I just want to make sure how serious you are before I put any effort into addressing your arguments.

                Heaven knows, if you come out on the wrong side of South Dakota v. Dole, I’ll know you’re full of crap.Report

              • Aaron in reply to Aaron says:

                You seem inordinately fond of argument ad absurdum, Jaybird. I’ve noticed that as a failing among libertarians generally, but you seem like an exceptional case.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

                Reductio ad absurdum is an awesome form of argument, yes.

                I’m also a fan of Modus Ponens.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird – it’s RIOTING. Town hall meetings, angry signs, putting the word “care” after something (ie trashcare, obamacare, etc) is considered rioting these days.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                I don’t know why the policymakers weren’t instead asking “why do they hate us?”Report

  3. Tony says:

    It’s fascinating how Atrios uses “obviously” to support his conclusions rather than just his assumptions. The latter is fine, if imperfect. But the former shows the point: Trust the few who know. Because they’re smart. Obviously.Report

    • joe from Lowell in reply to Tony says:

      Actually, the town voted for this. Obviously.Report

      • Most people in a town do not vote and do not know much about the candidates they do vote for. The people expressing their dissent over a decision made by the city council is probably a lot more democratic than the council elections themselves.Report

        • trizzlor in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Right, is that the point then? Why not have anti-statist votes count extra, since they’re so principled and all. Or is there a more charitable read of “people whose grievances happen to align with mine are more democratic than elections“?Report

        • efgoldman in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Most people in a town do not vote and do not know much about the candidates they do vote for.
          And right there is where the argument against the town falls apart.
          The Teabirds are free to inform themselves, and make informed votes.
          They are equally free to stay uninformed and not vote.
          In the real (not theoretical) world we call those “choices.”
          Having made the choice to stay ignorant and not vote, they need to STFU and run some candidates who will promise to shut down the town and rescind all taxes in the next election.
          Or, if there is a recall option in the town charter, they can try to exercise it.
          Apparently the choice they made is to wail and weep and stamp their feet and have a tantrum until the next election cycle, again.
          As usual, the shorter version by joe from lowell is exactly right.Report

  4. L2P says:

    “And, since it’s a small neighborhood…”

    And, with that small little phrase, the entire difference between a libertarian preference for a free market in trash pickup, and a Philadelphian desire for a single, government-provided trash hauler, is explained.

    Of COURSE a small neighborhood wouldn’t have problems with dumping, multiple trash trucks, etc.Report

  5. Zach says:

    Does Atrios at any point say that there’s no case in which private waste collection would be warranted? Did he dispute that some people are cool with private pickup or that some public/contracted systems are poor?

    His point is that there are “obvious” benefits for single-contractor or public collection, not that it’s obvious that these justifications always outweigh the benefits of free-market collection. The last two sentences are overreaching (at the limit of very disperse houses, the argument fails), though.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Zach says:

      If his point is only that there’s “obvious benefits for single-contractor or public collection,” then there’s no reason to write his post going after ED, since ED doesn’t attempt to suggest otherwise. That he’s trying to make this a universally applicable point is further demonstrated by his statement that “I really don’t see [single contractor or gov’t provided pickup] being outweighed in any way by the free market fairy…”

      That is a rather absolutist position to take.Report

      • Crusty Dem in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        If his point is only that there’s “obvious benefits for single-contractor or public collection,” then there’s no reason to write his post going after ED, since ED doesn’t attempt to suggest otherwise.

        Really? And here I thought the only alternative to single contractor pickup (or municipally-run) was multiple contractor pickup. Is ED not suggesting “choice” in contractors? Because I would tend to view the alternative to “single” as “multiple”. Unless you’re suggesting the presence of some sort of “trash fairy”..Report

        • Please show me where ED says that the costs and benefits of multiple pickup versus single or municipally run pickup are exactly the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Please also quote me the part where he suggests that there are “no obvious benefits to single-contractor or public collection.”

          ED is clearly not arguing that “choice” in garbage collection is universally superior to lack of choice in garbage collection, only that there may be locales where choice in garbage collection will be superior to single contractor or government provided trash collection, and, moreover, that a preference for “choice” in trash collection is not something that can be easily dismissed as an unimportant value.
          Just because you or Atrios may find it a relatively unimportant value in evaluating a trash collection system does not remotely mean that it is unreasonable for someone else to assign it an important value.Report

          • Crusty Dem in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            ED is clearly not arguing that “choice” in garbage collection is universally superior to lack of choice in garbage collection

            Did you read the ED’s post? Because that’s exactly what he’s arguing, based solely on the principle. Or is the line “but the Tea Partiers are right this time: having choice is a good thing, even for trash collection” too vague?

            He then goes on to lament the inefficiencies of monopolies, and this is where Atrios is exactly correct to counter with the benefits of monopoly (in this case).Report

  6. Trumwill says:

    There’s something to be said for having different collectors in that you are more likely to get different levels of service. For instance, the place where I lived previously had small bins that were collected weekly. My current one has large bins that are also collected weekly, though I only put the trash out once every other week. The seeming innocuous difference between having weekly pickup of a small bin and bi-weekly pickup of a large bin can actually make a HUGE difference because before I would have to take monthly trips to the dump for things too big to fit into the small bin but now I can fit into the large bin if I’m willing to hang on to my other trash for a bit longer.

    There’s something to be said for the one-size-fits-all, but there’s also something to be said for different models for different people (within the same neighborhood) and you’re not as likely to get that with a single supplier. So I am with you and EDK… let municipalities decide this for themselves.

    This isn’t like fire protection where a bad model can have disastrous consequences. We can afford to experiment without houses burning down.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    Dude ought to move to Jersey.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    What drives me nuts is that this is an argument between the benevolent autocrat vs. the market.

    In damn near every case, the benevolent autocrat is superior to the vagaries of the market. Seriously.

    The problem is that it is difficult to tell the difference between a benevolent and malevolent autocrat when they don’t have power yet. It is also much more difficult to get rid of a malevolent autocrat than it is for a bad company to be overrun by a good one in the market.

    If I had to pick between a benevolent monopoly and a marketplace, I, too, would pick the benevolent monopoly.

    Seems weird saying “benevolent monopoly”, though… doesn’t it? It sours on the tongue.

    Because we know what those turn into.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

      It is also much more difficult to get rid of a malevolent autocrat than it is for a bad company to be overrun by a good one in the market.

      This is an assumption, not a fact, and it’s one that you are using to place yourself on the side of angels in this debate without having to actually consider it’s validity. In terms of monopoly, a government contract to a trash collector should pale in comparison to the fascism that lurks within the public library. And yet the government hasn’t used them to indoctrinate the mindless masses; what’s more, salt of the earth folks like Barnes and Noble can even scrape by on the margins!Report

      • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

        Trizz, I can give you any number of examples of malevolent autocrats being overthrown… and, yes, they were pretty much all overthrown. People died in the process. They were shot, necklaced, disappeared.

        I can also give you any number of examples of bad companies being overrun by good ones.

        These are things that happened.Report

      • Pat Cahalan in reply to trizzlor says:

        > In terms of monopoly, a government contract to a trash collector
        > should pale in comparison to the fascism that lurks within the
        > public library. And yet the government hasn’t used them to
        > indoctrinate the mindless masses

        Point of fact, this is a very bad example to make your case. Libraries have often been asked to do things that are (in the most possibly charitable light) questionable, either by governmental organizations or political action groups. Just a couple of cases:

        Unlike for-profit services, libraries are not terribly susceptible to capture because (a) there isn’t a large profit motive to suborn them and (b) most librarians are (at least in my experience) fairly principled folk who don’t get into LS for money and have strong feelings about access to print material. There are, of course, exceptions.

        But it *is* a given that any organization that can be manipulated for gain can be subject to capture. Garbage service is not immune to this; a simple Google search returns thousands of results like this one:

        Jaybird’s point is valid, in this case. Benevolent dictatorships are preferable to the market, but benevolent dictatorships can get ugly really fast. Benevolent dictatorships are also, by their very nature, targets of opportunity for malevolent dictators 🙂

        Why go to the trouble of building your own empire with hard work when you can take a couple of city council members out to play golf and net yourself a cushy contract hauling crap?

        I’m not universally opposed to top-down or bottom-up solutions, but in this whole argument thread, the top-down folk seem to fail to acknowledge that Mark’s main point was that absolutism in following one design over the other is a bad default… a point with which I find myself in agreement.Report

        • trizzlor in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          I’m not universally opposed to top-down or bottom-up solutions, but in this whole argument thread, the top-down folk seem to fail to acknowledge that Mark’s main point was that absolutism in following one design over the other is a bad default… a point with which I find myself in agreement.

          Actually, it looks like both sides are throwing this exact accusation at each other. My example of the library was merely to point out the we do have quite a few socialized services in this country that, on the whole, have contributed positively to society. Perhaps I’m misreading Jaybird, but my interpretation of his statement that “What drives me nuts is that this is an argument between the benevolent autocrat vs. the market.” posits that a five-year/single-company garbage contract is the an act of benevolent autocracy that is likely to be corrupted, while some sort of constantly competitive trash-collection scheme it much less likely to lead to a corrupt corporation (I’m just guessing here because he does not present an alternative). This last point is just a value judgement that is essentially unprovable, and this thread seems to have devolved to each side presenting anecdotal evidence in one direction or the other (I’m guilty of that as well).

          What’s worse, ED also loads this debate up as an argument of choice versus monopoly and then claims that choice is always good “even for trash collection”. This tendency to position any argument for central-planning as if it’s idealist nanny-statism is equally absolutist and just as frustrating.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

            Perhaps I’m misreading Jaybird, but my interpretation of his statement that “What drives me nuts is that this is an argument between the benevolent autocrat vs. the market.” posits that a five-year/single-company garbage contract is the an act of benevolent autocracy that is likely to be corrupted, while some sort of constantly competitive trash-collection scheme it much less likely to lead to a corrupt corporation (I’m just guessing here because he does not present an alternative).

            It’s more that, sure, if the benevolent autocracy remains a benevolent autocracy, the service is likely to be high, the costs low, and the efficiency of one company being able to schedule everything would make sure that the service will stay high and the costs stay low.

            My problem is that this seems less likely over a long period of time (and more likely to result in corruption, kickbacks, so-on-so-forth) than the less-than-ideal outcome we’d get from a marketplace where two (or more!) trash companies want your business.

            Then, when I ask “well, what’s the worst that could happen?” when it comes to both, I see a corrupt government colluding with the Mafia over trash routes (seriously: this is something that happened). When it comes to two (or more!) trash companies competing, the worst thing that happens is… well, what? How does that compare to the Mafia-run trashpickup?

            It seems to me that the upsides aren’t *THAT* much higher for the municipality taking over while the downsides are spectacularly out of whack between the two.

            Isn’t it safer to assume that the autocracy won’t be perfectly benevolent?

            How’s about if we throw teabaggers into the mix? Still perfectly benevolent?

            How’s about if we give you a choice between the teabaggers’ preferred trash company and the one that enlightened people would use. Do you still want your local government picking your trash company? Why or why not?Report

            • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

              This is a perfectly reasonable and healthy outlook (even without the “what if your middle-school bully was the president” thought experiments) but as has been pointed out more elegantly up-thread, a five-year contract doled out to the lowest bidder by duly elected officials is a strange hill to die on unless you believe that government simply should not be in the business of providing any services.

              As for me, I would be much happier if my local community came to any kind of decision regarding trash collection, be it teabagger or Obamabot, because I believe that community-members working together tend towards efficiency over a competitive free-for-all. And if the result didn’t please me, I would petition the town council with empirical evidence that my solution is more ideal … I would certainly not issue a bunch of mailers calling the proponents fatcat teabaggers and referring to the policy as BushCare before it is even in place.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

                (even without the “what if your middle-school bully was the president” thought experiments)

                Do you remember 2002-2006?

                This is something that happened.

                a five-year contract doled out to the lowest bidder by duly elected officials is a strange hill to die on unless you believe that government simply should not be in the business of providing any services.

                I’m not dying on this hill. I’m defending the teabagging hypocritical homophobes from accusations that the only reasonable position to take is one of central planning of essential services like sewage, water, and trash.

                As for me, I would be much happier if my local community came to any kind of decision regarding trash collection, be it teabagger or Obamabot, because I believe that community-members working together tend towards efficiency over a competitive free-for-all.

                This is why I like having two (or more!) trash companies working in competition for each other. I don’t have to hope that my local community comes to a conclusion that I agree with. I can just be good giving my $65/3 months to Trash Incorporated without particularly caring about whether you’re using Trash Incorporated or Incorporated Trash. I’ll most likely assume that you’re using the one that best meets your individual needs without assuming that I would have made a different (or better) decision in your place because, dude, your priorities are obviously upside-down.Report

              • Annelid Gustator in reply to Jaybird says:

                And what about when the two companies collude via price fixing.

                This is something that actually happened.

                Moreover, you seem to be caught in the delusion that the choices and values of the different people don’t interact–or perhaps that’s overstating it. Maybe you’re just unduly discounting the externality argument. Atrios’s points were clearly based on the externality argument.

                That you suspect the worst of him is not unexpected, though, to be fair. He is a bit of a douchehat.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Annelid Gustator says:

                I’d rather see a government say “We’ve just signed the paperwork that will allow Trash Company C into the market with rates that beat you guys by 5 bucks a month” than “in an effort to prevent Trash Company A and Trash Company B from colluding, we’ve colluded with Trash Company A”.

                “More choices have better potential downsides than fewer choices.” That’s what I’m saying.Report

          • Pat Cahalan in reply to trizzlor says:

            > Actually, it looks like both sides are throwing this exact
            > accusation at each other.

            That’s a fair cop (at least, towards Mark’s original post). Kip’s law is not exactly charitably phrased: “Every advocate of central planning always — always — envisions himself as the central planner.”

            Not sure Jaybird falls into that category, re-reading his posts.Report

        • JosephFM in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          As the only actual librarian here, AFAIK – and a member of both those organizations –

          Public libraries are a really really weird institution for those very reasons. Librarians are basically organized professionals (in the same sense as lawyers are, but without the additional licensing scheme beyond the graduate degree) but the bulk of the efforts of librarians’ organizations are put towards increasing access to information for everyone. And Pat is also right that anyone working as a public librarian could probably make more money in the private sector (at least in times of normal employment) – and unlike teachers, public librarians are generally not tenured either.
          While most librarians are ALA members, the ALA is committed to free access to information above all else (well, that and library funding, obviously). Thus to the extent there is or can be capture, it’s a moot point because the interests of the potentially-capturing lobby align almost entirely with the goals of the institution, by design.Report

  9. Ken says:

    I think that I make a pretty consistent effort to expose myself to alternate viewpoints, engage in dialogue with people who disagree with me, consider that I might be wrong, and not confuse opposition to my views with moral failings.

    That said — I read the comments on Balloon Juice, and the prevailing approach to anyone who dissents or thinks differently, and wonder what awful thing E.D. did that makes him think he has to post over there as penance. Seriously, E.D. Ours is a merciful God. Forgive yourself.Report

    • pandera in reply to Ken says:

      Oh heavens to betsy yes – it’s a jungle over there. Can I use the fainting couch when you’re through?Report

      • Ken in reply to pandera says:

        Yes, but you musn’t clutch my pearls.

        Seriously, you can pretend that the quality of discussion at all sites is equal, but that doesn’t make it so. Some places are just youtube without pictures.Report

      • Ken in reply to pandera says:

        Case in point: compare and contrast Balko’s post about this and Cole’s sneering what-a-loser-you-are-for-talking-about-this post.Report

        • trizzlor in reply to Ken says:

          It took Balko half the post to get to this: “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.

          So Cole thinks that protesting central planning on grounds that it is like Obamacare heralds the death of sane local politics, and Balko thinks it’s not as long it’s “no sillier” than a random selection of YouTube comments?

          I’m going to go take a crying game shower for having spent so much time in this thread. Unsubscribe.Report

          • Ken in reply to trizzlor says:

            Cole’s most reasonable point is that it is odd to use this as an occasion to have a serious discussion of public vs. private utilities, because the protests that brought the issue to our attention involved a lot of nutty OMG RECYCLING IS COMMUNISM rhetoric, not the sort of sober discussion now being had. But sometimes craziness obscures that are are interesting arguments to be had. The argument over public vs. private trash collection, and private choice vs. municipal bid selection, is a useful one, even if it was occasioned by an oddity.Report

  10. Francis says:

    A really great way to stifle “social inquisitiveness” is to assume that your opponents are idiots and monsters. For example, writing “Atrios’ personal “wants” – not his needs – are deemed to take priority …” is a really great way to be an *sshole, and a lousy way to have an interesting debate.

    1. This started with John Cole commenting on a newspaper article about community response to a decision by a city council to do two things: hire a single hauler and start a recycling program. Cole’s comment? Our nation has lost its sh!t. The basis for the comment? The newspaper article showing that some members of the community are upset about the city council’s action. [A close reading of the article suggests that people are more upset about the recycling than going from 5 haulers to one.]

    2. ED charges in with the line “The Tea Partiers are right this time”, because choice, even in trash collection, is a good thing. Now, ED is just way off on this one, for any number of good reasons, as various people around the internet point out. So he backtracks dramatically and says that the real issue is local politics — “it’s their town, their street, their choice even if you think it’s a stupid one”. ED is now 0-for-2, because the letting of the sole-source contract and the decision to add recycling is a perfect example of local politics, and the ability of people on the losing side of a local decision to act like idiots as to get press coverage.

    3. So in comes Mark Thompson to ED’s defense, throwing around terms like ‘nanny-statism’, ‘free-market’, ‘left-o-sphere’, and ‘self-aggrandizement’. This in the same day we have a post about creating a space for thoughtful debating.

    The temptation to use words that have equally strong but opposite connotations to the ones used by MT is almost overwhelming. Almost. Instead, I’ll behave, mostly.

    A. Very low density environments do not offer trash hauling services. You drag the stuff to the dump yourself, or pay a guy who offers the services privately either on a regular or as-needed basis.

    B. As anyone who knows even a little about urban planning [couldn’t resist a little jab] knows, above even a relatively low density level, trash disposal becomes a big deal. The EPA and state regulatory agencies are concerned about air quality [open burning is therefore difficult to impossible], groundwater contamination [can’t just dump trash in an unlined pit], illegal dumping, hazardous waste and reclamation of the site after it closes, among other issues. Above a certain urban density, residents can get cranky about traffic, noise, olfactory impacts and damage to streets.

    So, because the externalities of dumping trash are so high, it’s a highly regulated industry, from curbside collection to sorting to materials recovery to site acquisition, preparation, operation, maintenance, interim closure and final closure. Here fyi is EPA’s website on municipal solid waste.

    Unlike, say, groceries, the management of msw is much more like the delivery of water and the removal of sewage — it can be done by a private entity in a regulatory environment or it can be done by the government. The decision whether and how precisely to outsource this function tends to be quite complex and very local.

    As one might be able to tell, I’ve actually done a fair amount of legal work regarding msw issues. I have no desire whatsoever to be in charge. Trying to manage the rough-and-tumble aspect of the haulers, plus state/EPA oversight of the site, plus managing the revenue streams off the recycling component [way down in the recession], plus the city manager wanting to divert some of the reserves into the general budget to make up for shortfalls in general tax revenues, plus the incessant complaining from citizens about the noise, the lousy service and the high costs — it’s a job for a professional public servant.

    Of course, one could be a libertarian and say that the free market will solve all. Because we live in the best of all possible worlds, the free market always perfectly captures all the externalities associated with trash hauling and disposal without government oversight. (Do you get double rainbows and sparkle ponies too in your world?)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

      “Of course, one could be a libertarian and say that the free market will solve all.”

      This is not the libertarian position.

      The libertarian position is that the downsides of the market don’t compare to the downsides of corrupt government colluding with rent-seeking monopolies.

      But what about the upsides of efficiency?, I hear you ask. Yeah, the potential upsides of good government working with proven providers of services have better upsides than the market does.


      But the libertarian position is not, for a fucking second, that the market will “solve all”.Report

      • Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird: Re-read what Atrios wrote. Then re-read what MT wrote. Then reconsider whether — for an issue that has as many really unpleasant as well as actually dangerous externalities as mws has — MT sounded like a libertarian, or a parody of one.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

          Nope, not at all.

          He is making a point I’ve made many times.

          When people get really gung-ho about the exercise of government power, they self-identify with the government rather than the folks being told how to live.

          I have a friend who watches crap like Dallas SWAT and identifies with the SWAT team while I wince and leave the room when I see what’s on because I identify with the poor schlub whose door is being kicked in.

          This is a similar thing. People are imagining all of the wonders that cooperation between the government and the proven provider will be able to give folks… when, really, it’s a lot more likely to end up like the shit that goes on in Jersey.

          Hey, maybe it *WILL* end up being awesome. Kick-ass. Woo.

          How much better than the market is it likely to be?

          If it ends up being corrupt… how much worse?

          Read what Atrios said again. Then read what Mark said.Report

          • Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

            Jaybird: I’m not talking about SWAT, I’m talking about trash.

            Trash, in olden days, was a great vehicle for plague. There’s a reason it’s a regulated industry.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

              Oh, I didn’t know that the teabaggers were screaming for trash to be unregulated.

              We seriously need to put those people in education camps.Report

              • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

                Because yup, that’s what he said.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

                He’s arguing against people saying “there ought to be at least two companies competing for business” as if they were saying “trash collection is not essential for modern-day civilization”.

                That’s as nonsensical as saying that you don’t have to listen to someone’s argument because they have backwards opinions on gay marriage, probably.Report

              • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, when people wrap themselves in Gadsden flags and crying about how this is some sort of unconscionable infringement on their liberty, I think it’s reasonable to point out how selective their application of that principle is.Report

              • Annelid Gustator in reply to Jaybird says:

                Two companies did compete. The town council let a competitive, limited-term contract.Report

      • Evan in reply to Jaybird says:

        And the liberal response to the libertarian position is that you shouldn’t balance the benefits of a productive public-private venture like municipal trash collection against “the downsides of corrupt government colluding with rent-seeking monopolies” in the absence of any evidence of corruption. Yes, one should be skeptical, but it is possible to design processes and institutions that minimize the incidence of such collusion.

        Also, capitalism is based on exchange for mutual benefit. The residents benefit by choosing a single provider, and the company benefits by providing the service at a lower cost than the value of the contract. I assume that if there were some evidence of corruption or overcharging, the complainers would talk about that instead of throwing around “Obamacare” slogans.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Evan says:

          “it is possible to design processes and institutions that minimize the incidence of such collusion.”


          Do those tend to result in people, let me quote John Cole here, “rioting”?Report

          • Evan in reply to Jaybird says:

            It depends if they’re a bunch of rabid Tea Partiers, doesn’t it? The Obamacare canard is a dead giveaway. There is no connection between health insurance reform and this change in municipal trash collection, other than the fact that these people oppose both.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Francis says:

      Atrios’ repeated use of the “I don’t want….” to justify his absolutist position that “There are good and rather obvious reasons for having municipal or single contract residential trash collection which I really don’t see being outweighed in any way by the free market fairy…” combined with the fact that this town’s actions have no conceivable effect on him is why I say he is prioritizing his personal wants over the preferences of the angry locals. Since Atrios offers no other justification or analysis beyond a claim about efficiency, I don’t think this is doing anything other than taking him at his word. Nor do I think this makes him an idiot or a monster, by the way – just human. But it’s that fact which explains why there’s a particularly large need to be cautious in advocating for solutions that will restrict individual choice rather than expand it.

      As for my use of various terms, I might suggest that you need to get a thicker skin. “Nanny statism” is perhaps a harsh term, but it’s useful shorthand for describing the relevant concept. “Free market” and “left-o-sphere” are hardly derogatory terms; the former is particularly appropriate here where there is a need to draw a comparison between a solution where there is only one service provider and a solution where there are multiple providers from which to choose; “left-o-sphere” is to me every bit as neutral a term as “liberal blogosphere,” except that it’s broader – I wouldn’t now how to appropriately make reference to it without using an overly long phrase. As for “self-aggrandizement,” I think that’s an appropriate term in this case. Look, I’ve used harsh terms in my writing ever since I started blogging, and I’m not about to change my style now. Oddly, relatively few seem to complain the overwhelming majority of the time, when those terms are directed towards someone on the Right.

      As for the rest, again, the point here is that there are a lot of factors at play, most of which are entirely local. Universal statements and attempts at argument such as those made by Atrios elide this fact.Report

  11. Crusty Dem says:

    Of course, the logical reply to Kip’s law is Crusty’s law: “Every libertarian always — always — envisions the absence of a central planner to be superior to any form of actual planning.”Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Crusty Dem says:

      Because, Lord knows, if there isn’t a central planner, there must be absolutely no planning at all!

      Here’s Bastiat.

      “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”
      — Frédéric Bastiat (The Law)Report

      • Crusty Dem in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yes, and everyone wrote that libertarians are opposed to garbage collection. Except where no one ever said anything of the sort. Between you, Matt, and ED, you folks certainly do pick some interesting straw men with whom to duel.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Crusty Dem says:

          Dude, we want to pick between planners without having a central planner forced upon us.

          Which is a *COMPLETELY* different statement than is found in “Crusty’s Law”.

          Want me to quote it for you? Here you go:

          Crusty’s law: “Every libertarian always — always — envisions the absence of a central planner to be superior to any form of actual planning.”

          Actual planning is good. Being able to choose between plans rather than having one plan thrust upon us? Better.

          You may wish to change that to “Crusty’s Hypothesis”.Report

          • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

            Honestly, how is this story not an example of picking between planners?

            Is it because the contract was written for five years rather than a day? Is it because the decision was made by a city council rather than a referendum? Is it because a vocal minority cannot nullify the decision simply by getting their inflammatory statements into the headlines and local mailboxes and blogs?Report

          • Crusty Dem in reply to Jaybird says:

            Nope, you’re not even denting it. At no point are you suggesting any conceivable planning, you’re merely railing against the unseen spectre of evil that is a central planner, government, etc. Don’t get me wrong, as a scientist, I would prefer hypothesis, or perhaps conjecture, but I find that libertarians are much more comfortable with unknownable, often irrational, absolutes (choice is always good, government is always bad, etc), even when wrong.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Crusty Dem says:

              Dude, I’ve been arguing that we ought to be able to choose between two competing products.

              Do you think that Waste Management Of City vs. City Waste Management has no planning when compared to Monopoly City Management of Waste?Report

              • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

                Neither are central planning at all. The service is up for bid and that’s it. ‘Monopoly City’ isn’t a monopoly in any real sense of the word. They have a contract that runs for a few years which is then put up for bid again. Calling thm a monopoly is kind of like calling Mcdonald’s a monopoly because when you’re standing on line they are the only people you can buy food from.

                What you’re describing actually entails more central planning. The town is basically going to ‘give’ a monopoly to two ‘competiting’ companies which residents get to ‘choose from’. But since that sounds like it would require individual billing you’d loose some efficiency gains from a standardized service and low administrative costs. I could see an argument for it in terms of greater choice (instead of a standard two cans the companies can offer ‘plans’ like the cable company) but you’re also adding fixed costs to the equation. If the utility of the added ‘choices’ are less than the increased fixed costs then the ‘monopoly’ solution makes more sense.

                Just an added note, even with a single contract towns do not issue ‘monopolies’ on garbage. If you are doing a cleanout you can usually hire any company you want to put a dumpster down and then pick it up when it’s full. In fact if you’re a business you almost certainly have to do this as most munciple contracts I’ve heard of only cover residential pickup.Report

  12. Arabesque says:

    I hereby point out the corollary: A free market capitalist, when presented with a choice between methods of accomplishing a goal, makes a decision based on ease of exploitation.Report

  13. Evan says:

    I understand what you’re saying about choice, but I think clicking back through the entire discussion, the original post was about “Tea Party” reaction to a town choosing a single garbage hauler, calling it socialism, and “likening it to Obamacare.” They claim Big Brother will be looking through their trash. This is patently ridiculous.

    This kind of thing is why social-contract liberals find libertarianism so baffling. If everyone was happy with the existence of five trash haulers in a small town of 25,000, the town council probably wouldn’t have brought it up. People complained to council members, they decided to simplify things, did their research, solicited bids, and chose a provider. The social benefit is potentially large (fewer trucks going through neighborhoods on fewer days, lower prices due to economies of scale), and the social cost is small (some people liked another company better, but will still receive service), and the loss of freedom is negligible. Moreover, the people responsible for the decision are few, known, and directly elected.

    It just seems like a strange hill to die on, is all.Report

    • Evan in reply to Evan says:

      Also, your dozen-household neighborhood with a HOA does not provide the best basis for extrapolation. In my city (Portland, OR) we solved this problem as follows:

      1. The city determines what service level a trash hauler has to provide.

      2. The land area is cut up into chunks, and haulers bid to provide service on those chunks.

      3. The city collects fees and distributes them to the haulers.

      4. If you are a business or a building with more than four dwellings, then you are free to contract with any provider. Or none, I guess. You get charged per unit of weight at the local dumping stations.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Evan says:

        “Also, your dozen-household neighborhood with a HOA does not provide the best basis for extrapolation.”

        No doubt, but I’m not trying to extrapolate, just trying to show that there are quite common examples of a multiple service system being vastly preferable for the average person to a single contractor system. I’m not the one making blanket statements here about why the benefits of the “free market fairy” in trash pickup do not “in any way” outweigh the negative externalities thereof.

        Also, FWIW, my neighborhood has more like 50 homes than 12.Report

        • Evan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          Fair enough. I’ll just add that the externalities pile up quickly as density increases, and when you get up to and beyond the density of a typical postwar suburb, the idea of having garbage trucks coming multiple times a week quickly becomes unthinkable. I grew up in a mid-80’s subdivision, and I remember the garbage truck waking me up at 5:45 every Thursday morning for the first 18 years of my life. I’d gladly trade some freedom for those potential lost hours of sleep.

          It sounds like your neighborhood might have less density, with houses set far back from the street, but I don’t know. Food for thought.Report

          • Mark Thompson in reply to Evan says:

            No doubt that the externalities increase exponentially with density, but that’s a good part of this: this particular town is not terribly densely populated. It’s about 1200 people per square mile. Although that’s about 50% more dense than my town, it’s about as dense as the developed (ie, non-farm) areas of my town, and actually a bit less dense than the neighboring town to the east, which has a similar system and largely consists of virtually identical style neighborhoods to mine.Report

        • Crusty Dem in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          Frankly, there’s nothing in your description that even remotely suggests that your multiple service system is “vastly preferable for the average person to a single contractor system”. The best description would be that it works for you, which is great, but it’s hardly rational to claim it as some sort of global ideal.Report

          • Well I guess it’s a good thing that I never claimed it as a global ideal then, isn’t it?

            But it does seem to work for a lot more than just me; it seems instead to work for my neighborhood and my town, not to mention plenty of other neighborhoods and towns with similar systems. Or would you presume to know my neighbors better than I?Report

            • Boonton in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              Yes cool it works for you. My father-in-law once owned a garbage company and his brothers still work one of their own. All possible solutions are done and ‘work’. There are a few towns where there is no pick up at all, everyone has to bring their garbage to a central location on designated days (this is done out in PA where there are concerns about bears being attracted by open garbage cans). There are a few towns where each home contracts with a private pick up company. There are towns where there is a municipal contract to service all the homes awarded by bid to one company every few years (businesses, though, almost always have to contract their own pickup services).

              There are pros and cons to all of the solutions but the gist of this post is that a person inclined towards a municipal contract is a sinister ‘central planner’ callously seeking to inflict his silly ‘wants’ on everyone else’s freedom.Report

  14. Boonton says:

    “His wants”, “His needs”?????

    Aren’t the things he lists really a type of expanded set of property rights? For example he doesn’t want his street blocked up with multiple noisy garbage trucks. Isn’t it true that people pay more for houses on ‘quiet streets’? Isn’t quiteness, in fact, a property interest which people protect thru ordinances, zoning laws etc.?

    The issue here isn’t an aspiring central planner, it seems the issue is that some property rights are only imperfectly protected by law. If my neighbor throws his trash in my yard, I have plenty of laws civil and criminal to protect myself. If my neighbor let’s his trash sit smelling in a dumpster all month only to have Cheapo-Trash-Hauler pick it up at 2:30 AM in an old truck that squeals I’m limited in my remedies beyond looking like a ‘central planner’ asking my town to have laws regarding when trucks can pick up trash, how often etc.

    In an alternate universe many of these values he expresses might in fact be some type of property right, which means his concerns would be addressed by his neighbor having to offer him compensation for ‘smell infringement’ or ‘noise units’ or ‘street congestion units’. But since those values are not incorporated in most local property rights laws, the choices left are to either pretend they don’t exist at all or to imperfectly express them in local laws such as having a uniform garbage pick up.Report

    • Francis in reply to Boonton says:

      Actually, nuisance and trespass actions date back deep into English common law and are yet still used today. But since private remedies require private actions (and the aggravation, cost, time and loss of neighborly goodwill associated therewith), many citizens prefer to lobby their elected representatives for a public solution. Those who prefer to avoid the cost of the public solution and seek the liberty to hire their own hauler are equally entitled to lobby to keep the status quo.Report

      • Boonton in reply to Francis says:

        True, but what I’d like to point out here the ‘I want’ charge of whininess goes in both directions. “I want to save $20 bucks a month on trash collecting…” so therefore my neighbors have to put up with more trucks on their street, more noise, more smell etc. Yea one single person probably won’t make much of a difference but a dense community with many houses each going their own way adds up quickly.

        If you want the libertarian kool-aid then eat the whole hog. If you have your own private estate with its own private road then yea have your own garbage truck coming whenever you want. Most, though, are living in smaller situations because they want to take advantage of the cost savings that comes from pooling resources for some services.Report

  15. Jeff says:

    I barely even notice the noise caused by trash collectors other than my own. Never have I felt even the slightest bit of stress from occasionally having to drive around someone else’s trash collector.

    So goody for Mark. If his neighbor notices the noise, it’s because the neighbor has been coddled by “nanny-state” (one reason I detest most Libertarians is their dependence on that phrase — keeping the poor from starving is “nanny-statism, donchaknow?), not because he might be awake when they come by.

    Argument FAIL.

    Houses burn down. Trash piles up. But it’s all for the sake of the “Free Market” so that’s all that matters.

    [mutters “blankty-blank Libertarians. And this site is supposed to be the SMART ones!”]Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jeff says:

      Jeff, believe me when I say that I live in a city with two different competing trash companies.

      The difference between the two are thus: one picks up on Tuesday. One picks up on not-Tuesday. We went with the Tuesday one because… well, I forget why. I think I asked “which one do you want?” and Maribou said “Tuesday” so we went with that one. The prices were the same, otherwise. Both promised the same service.

      For my part, I’m pleased that I had to make a few phone calls to do enough research to figure out which one we wanted to adopt as our trash company.

      Believe it or not: Our trash has not piled up. Our house has not burned down. Our city has not experienced the trash riots that the centrally controlled cities have seen. The trash assassinations (trashinations) have been at acceptable levels since 2004. The free market has not yet resulted in Stalinesque piles of bodies… or, at least, it’s provided us with landfills deep enough to hide them effectively.Report

      • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

        I would hardly say that two companies offering the same service for the same price represent some sort of triumph of the unfettered free market. Are the two companies constantly lowering their prices? Then they are operating a cartel for trash services. So, the argument is, does a cartel represent some sort of significant improvement over a single, government-contracted monopoly for a single firm? Who knows? Seems like something for a town council to decide. But either way, it hardly represents some sort of choice between a “purer” free market and an inevitable decline into corruption and abuse of power.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

          “I would hardly say that two companies offering the same service for the same price represent some sort of triumph of the unfettered free market.”

          Who’s talking about a fucking triumph?

          I’m talking about it being better than having the decisions made for my on my behalf by a corporation colluding with a government.

          “Seems like something for a town council to decide.”

          And such organizations ought be subject to citizen oversight, no?

          Or ought they be untouchable without having to deal with such things as people complaining at City Hall?Report

          • Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

            Nope, I think they should certainly argue with their town council about it if they find that it’s a bad decision. Nothing would be more reasonable! But let’s not pretend that a five year contract to pick up trash represents some sort of monstrous state that can be (conveniently!) addressed by giving the merest illusion of a free market. I’d say that if you’re arguing that having two companies divide up a captive market and charge the exact same price is an inherently superior situation from having one company do it, you don’t really have much of an argument.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

              The two companies didn’t “divide up” my city, per se.

              I called both of them. Both of them wanted my business.

              Both of them would have come to my house and taken my trash.

              It’s not like Trash A got the West Side and Trash B got the East Side.

              Trash A and Trash B got the city. If, for some reason, I decided that I hated Trash A and wanted to switch to Trash B, I could. It would take a couple of phone calls.

              I would say that seeing this as not obviously better than having the city council choose Trash A for me (and everybody else in the city) requires primary assumptions about choice that are so fundamentally different than mine that they seem alien.Report

              • Annelid Gustator in reply to Jaybird says:

                Collusion is real.

                This is something that happenedReport

              • Jaybird in reply to Annelid Gustator says:

                Oh, I know it is!

                But if we’re going to pretend that the government is not as, if not more, corrupt than the colluding corporations, why not pretend that they’d lower barriers to entry for competitors to the colluding, corrupt corporations thus mitigating corruption?

                Too fanciful?Report

              • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

                What exactly is corrupt about having an open bid awarding the contract to the lowest qualified bidder? Yes collusion is still possible but there are lots of garbage companies so either all of them would have to collude or one of them would win the contract by undercutting the high bidders. The bidding process is also policed by those who lose the bids as they can and do sue if evidence surfaces of anything funny in the bidding process.

                In terms of the open system I’m not as concerned about collusion but it would be hard to detect since the nature of the market would drive towads only a few large players all charging similiar prices. As I said you have the cost of picking up the cans and then the cost of dumping them. There’s little garbage companies can do to alter the 2nd. Once you’ve gotten pretty efficient at the first your prices are more or less locked in.

                I’m not really sure localities do grant a monopoly on trash pick up. They award a contract to pick up trash but is there an actual law forbidding a homeowner from hiring his own company to pick up his three cans every week? What need would there be for one since that wouldn’t alter the revenue the municiple trash guy gets?Report

  16. Michael Drew says:

    Pretty much unrelated, but your reaction to Atrios’ advancing a strong opinion about a municipal decision someplace he does not reside was the main basis for my objection to the objection voiced (or just discussed? can’t remember) many months ago to the proposal in NYC for a tax on sugar soda. It’s not that I have a brief for such a tax (though, as with raising the alcohol tax, I believe there is a case to be made for it – another position that was misconstrued to be advocacy, as in my mind that wording clearly implies an acknowledgement that there is also a case against the idea), but at that time I thought it was important to recognize that this was not at that time a discussion that involved a national polity, so that a we should recognize the potential legitimacy of such a decision were it reached in a political community that is not our own, and whose priorities we therefore don’t necessarily understand in a first-person way.Report

    • A fair point, Michael. I’d have to go back and look at the points I was making in that context. I seem to recall that my main point in that discussion was questioning why a lot of movement liberals seemed more jazzed up about implementing sugar taxes than about fighting corn subsidies. I think at some point I also made a related argument about sin taxes more generally and why they actively hurt and restrict the freedom of the poor whom liberals are supposed to care most about, but my memory is a bit hazy on that front.

      To the extent my memory is accurate, I think a critical difference here is that there I was trying to argue against those policies on basically liberal grounds rather than commenting on how the voters in NYC should vote.

      But nonetheless, this is a fair point – and again, my memory may well be hazy.Report

  17. Steve S. says:

    “Atrios’ personal “wants” – not his needs – are deemed to take priority, as a matter of good public policy,”

    Are you serious about this? It seems like a joke to me, because anybody who is familiar with the succinct, colloquial style of his blogging wouldn’t say something this silly. That, plus the follow-on anecdotes suggest you were aiming at humor, but with no obvious laugh lines.Report

  18. Boonton says:

    A more perfect example of Kip’s Law I cannot imagine than this paragraph above. Atrios’ personal “wants” – not his needs – are deemed to take priority, as a matter of good public policy, over the wants (and, possibly, needs) of others,

    1. Why are ‘needs’ supposedly so much more important here? I could see Atrios saying “I (or we) need to keep our streets relatively free of congestion and a dozen different trucks servicing two dozen houses simply doesn’t fit our needs”. I don’t see how what is essentially making the same point but rephrasing wants as needs magically alters the argument to from central planning to freedom loving capitalism.

    2. Atrios doesn’t seem to be saying his personal ‘wants’ take priority but rather collective wants have a right to be heard. If Atrios was saying he wanted every house on his block to be painted pink that would easily be seen as a personal fancy. But the desire to keep truck congestion down, to keep noise levels as low as possible, to keep people from being incentivized to offload trash on their neighbors in the middle of the night are not ‘personal fancies’. They are wants or needs that I think we can all see are legitimate collective goals. Now some people may place a great deal of importance on them and other people may not care but it’s hard to see how the opposite could be legitimate.

    In other words, take the personal want to see every house painted pink. Someone else may have a personal want to never see a pink painted house. Neither want seems to merit being given priority to me. Hence the free market solution. If you want every house on the block to be pink, then buy every house and paint them pink or contract with their owners to pay them to be pink. If you don’t want any house to be pink then do the same exercise.

    A want, though, for lower noise levels or less congested streets does seem legitimate. They can be taken too far but it’s hard to take seriously a hypothetical resident who demands that there needs to be *more* trucks rolling thru the neighborhood or *more* congestion or *more* noise. In fact its pretty classical property rights. The neighbors ‘freely contracting’ personalized garbage are, in fact, offloading some of the cost (noise, congestion, etc.) on their neighbors. If this is part of the property rights system then there is no justification for state action but if it isn’t then it is hardly ‘nanny statism’ for citizens to seek to see their property rights are protected by NOT allowing neighbors to essentially spoil their property thru externalities.Report

  19. Crusty Dem says:

    It should also be mentioned that at no point does Atrios activate Kip’s law, since he at no point assumes that a central planner will do anything remotely challenging (ie, single collection day, fewer trash collection vehicles, avoidance of dumping, etc).

    Also, the decision of a duly elected town council to select a trash/recycling provider is NOT a violation of anyone’s “rights”, and the Tea Party morons and ED making comparisons to socialism. Obamacare, or citing “democracy” are completely off their nut.Report

  20. Francis says:

    Because this thread has been de-indexed it’s become unreadable, so instead of responding I’ll make two points:

    1. Dear libertarians, trash can foul your air, spoil your water, and attract rats that spread disease. Dealing with it is a core role of local government. The lunatics who got themselves in the newspaper article that started this tempest-in-a-bottle are sore losers, who managed to come up with sufficiently spittle-flecked diatribes to get into print. Get over yourselves, really.

    2. MT, my skin is plenty thick. I didn’t say I was offended; I wasn’t. I said you were being an *sshole, which you were.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

      Lighten up, Francis!

      I live in a city with two competing trash companies.

      Believe it or not, the air is not foul, the water is not spoilt, and the rats are disease-free as far as we can tell.

      The one thing we don’t have is rioters.Report

  21. Rufus F. says:

    I’ve lived in areas where trash was picked up by private companies and areas where it’s basically the city company picking it up. I can’t really remember much difference in price or service, although city workers do go on strike from time to time and that can cause serious problems if the garbage men are striking. I am a bit surprised, frankly, to hear there are places that still don’t have recycling though because I’ve had that since at least the late 1900s and haven’t heard of places without it. Even the very small island where my father lives has recycling (I think).Report

    • JosephFM in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Large college apartment complexes tend to not have recycling, because they have a single dumpster for the whole set of buildings to which residents have to take their trash themselves. When I lived in one, I dropped off my own recycling sometimes, and didn’t recycle at all others (reasoning that, unless it was on my way to where I was going already, any benefit from recycling would be undone by the amount of gasoline used to get there).
      Other than that, it’s a city monopoly here, but it’s a wholly public one, not a contractor. But I live alone, so I also only make enough trash to fill my bin in three to four weeks, and I really don’t care all that much about who is doing it.Report

  22. Boonton says:

    What often happens when you have private contractors is that you get one or two companies that end up with a lock on the town. Once a truck is coming to do half of the houses on the block on Monday it becomes very easy for that company to offer a low price to the remaining houses since they’ve already paid to get the truck there and half loaded. It is possible, though, for very small companies to use pickup trucks to hit a handful of houses scattered in a town.Report

  23. Jaybird says:

    Dude! We got Hit and Runned!Report

  24. Francis says:

    One more run at this:

    We can truly privatize garbage collection and police forces. Local governments around the nation could, if they so decided, simply decide not to offer those services. What would spring up in their place? Well, entrepreneurs would presumably jump in to offer those services for a price, and a free market would exist.

    Is that a free market we want? Jaybird expressed concerns about Dallas SWAT. Would privatizing police really reduce the number of SWAT-style raids? What oversight would exist? And how would we citizens prevent the entrepreneurs from dumping the very real costs associated with trash collection on the environment? It seems to me that there’s really strong evidence that in most communities the people have spoken and decided that free markets in trash and police are not wanted.

    One solution to the real problem of municipal corruption is citizen oversight. How many people here go to meetings of public agencies?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

      “One solution to the real problem of municipal corruption is citizen oversight. ”

      I thought that that was what we were complaining about here.

      The government did something.
      The citizenry complained.

      Now we’re bitching about the citizenry being all hypocrites because they’re teabaggers who oppose gay marriage.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

      Also, you may want to do some googling on “Bell California”.

      Seriously, this is a really interesting (recent!) scandal that has resulted in such things as the city outsourcing its policing.

      It’s worth digging into.Report

      • Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yah, they’re outsourcing their policing to the county, like a number of other small cities in LA county do. (I live just a few miles from Bell. I’ve never met the former City Attorney but I know quite a few of the partners in his law firm. Can’t imagine that they’re too happy about the malpractice lawsuit the firm is likely to face.) Not exactly a paradigm of libertarianism. It happens a fair amount in SoCal. Local police get overly corrupt and a new city council fires them all and contracts w/ the county for police services. A few years go by and people complain about the high cost of police services, lack of responsiveness and desire for local control. The sheriff’s contract gets terminated, a local police chief gets hired and the cycle starts again. As best I can tell, this mostly happens in poorer cities. My guess would be that the lower tax base means the cops get paid less and the poorer citizenry means fewer citizens (and their lawyers) to get cranky.

        As for trash, I’m not complaining about the citizens’ conduct; I’m mocking it. Trashcare? Really? I am most definitely complaining about ED and MT acting like idiots about the issue. Neither of them have shown the slightest interest in putting dogma aside and discussing why municipalities have little interest in a free market for trash (or water or sewage).Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

          “Neither of them have shown the slightest interest in putting dogma aside and discussing why municipalities have little interest in a free market for trash (or water or sewage).”

          Oh, I’m sure that both of them are *ALL OVER* why municipalities have little interest in a free market for trash (or water or sewage).

          The problem is that instead of identifying with the municipality, they’re identifying with the citizenry. As such, they want a free market.

          Which comes back to Mark’s main point… who do you identify with in this case? Do you identify with the people in power or with the citizenry told what decisions have been made on their own behalf?

          I am a libertarian because (knee-jerk!) I always, always, always identify with the people who don’t hold power.

          And Mark’s original post about Kip even opened with how people who are for the central planning always identify with the central planners rather than with the people who have decisions made on their own behalf.

          Hell, go all the way to the first comment and read all the way down… you can see who identifies with whom. The libertarians identify with the teabaggers. The statists identify with the state.

          That this is anything but a trivial observation is shocking to me.Report

          • JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

            In general, on things like this, I don’t identify with anyone, I just think you are all being totally ridiculous.Report

          • Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

            “As such, they want a free market.”

            No, they don’t. They want a marginally less regulated market, while pretending this is an issue about freedom from government oppression.

            A free market in water means no water service in your house. Residential water service is only possible if a monopoly exists. No one will lay the pipe in the first place if a competitor can come in later (too expensive), so service never comes into existence in the first place.

            Same story for sewage.

            Trash is a little different, because at least for a while the externalities can be hidden. Out of sight, out of mind. But cleaning up hazardous waste from illegal dumping is very expensive. Or should we just declare that land, and the water underneath it, abandoned? If the land is owned privately, what business is it of the state to prevent waste (a technical term meaning the reduction in the value of land)? If the waste is causing nuisance or trespass, then neighbors can sue to abate the waste, right?

            But what happens when the operator of the site declares bankruptcy / flees the jurisdiction and the site is on top of an important public water supply? Taxes go up. This is a live problem right now all over the country. Google ‘perchlorate’.

            For the 99th time, I don’t fetishize the state. god knows I’ve dealt with enough elected officials and public employees to drive most people insane. But the idea that the ‘free market’ can replace the state in the provision of these kinds of services is just absurd. If the community finds the presence of a recycling bin on their doorstep so oppressive, they can launch a recall campaign / hold a referendum / vote the bastards out / go to public meetings and express their outrage. In the meantime they can drink the water out of the tap, without worrying whether it is toxic.

            What utterly baffles me about this issue is the degree to which libertarians are willing to deprive everyone, including themselves, of real and valuable liberties, like clean tap water, reliable sewer service and the disposal of trash in a manner that won’t impose future tax hikes, in order to gain the perceived liberty of creating a ‘free market’ in trash, water and sewage.

            By the way, mob control of garbage was actually over the nominally competitive commercial side. Residences got service from the government. As the owner of a restaurant, you had two choices — sign with the gangsters or see your restaurant burn down. People who tried to break into the business by offering better service at a lower price soon found themselves needing the assistance of another government agency — the police.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:


              I live in a city with competing trash companies.

              The things you are saying would happen with competition *HAVE NOT HAPPENED*.

              I don’t know how to make that any more clear.

              The things you are saying would happen do not mesh with what actually happens and you refuse to acknowledge that there are people out there who have experienced things contrary to your theory of how competition in trash disposal would work.

              It’s weird.Report

              • Francis in reply to Jaybird says:


                I’m actually glad you’re happy with your service. Different cities have different solutions. Some allow carting companies to compete for the municipal contract, some divide up the contract, some do the work with municipal employees. I have no problem whatsoever with local / state / federal government working with its citizens to find ways to balance the various interests: efficiency, oversight, cost.

                But this is not a free market; it’s barely even competition. The contract isn’t with you, it’s with the city. Your city is increasing the total traffic and noise burden (by having two companies) presumably in a desire to improve customer service (by creating a little bit of competition between the two service providers). Other cities want to do things differently. Hooray for the marketplace of ideas! But ED and MT fetishizing choice among service providers above all other interests is, still, ridiculous.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

                Even in the face of protests at the city hall?

                I’m 100% down with the marketplace of ideas but if a top-down solution results in, among other things, public protests, it is fair to question the wisdom of top-down solutions at the expense of competitive marketplaces when it has been established that competitive marketplaces have worked elsewhere without too much incident (including, of course, public protests).

                And pointing out that the folks protesting are just hippies who enjoy drum circles or hillbillies who hate homos does not particularly make for particularly good arguments about, let me say it again, the deeper issue of benign autocracy vs. messy marketplaces.Report

              • Francis in reply to Jaybird says:

                There’s 5% to 49% of the populace that is deeply dissatisfied with every action and nonaction taken by a city council. No recycling bins! OMG! We’re already running out of landfill space!

                First rule of local government — you cannot please everyone all the time.

                One final time and I’ll drop this point — having 2 providers does NOT NOT NOT mean there is a messy marketplace. It means that the city made a particular kind of tradeoff you like. There’s some amount of pressure for each company to provide good service. In return, it is likely that your costs are higher than they would be in a sole source contract. When the contract comes up for renewal, you may find yourself on the opposite side of the fiscal conservatives who prefer the lowest possible price and/or side benefits that may be available under a sole source contract.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Francis says:

                Sure, you can’t.

                But there are policies that result in grumbling at the diner, there are policies that result in petitions, and then there are policies that result in mobs of people showing up downtown with signs (being painted by the opposition as “rioters”).

                “One final time and I’ll drop this point — having 2 providers does NOT NOT NOT mean there is a messy marketplace. It means that the city made a particular kind of tradeoff you like.”

                I agree that there are always tradeoffs to be made.

                I prefer the tradeoffs to be of the form “I can choose between multiple options… or move” to “I can either put up with it or move.”

                And, depending on the choices being made on your (as in *YOU*) behalf, I’m pretty sure that you’d find yourself in agreement on this… or, at the very least, you find that the choices being made on your behalf happen to line up somewhat with the choices you would have made had it been up to you in the first place.Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Francis says:

                But ED and MT fetishizing choice among service providers above all other interests is, still, ridiculous.

                Well, it would be if that’s what we were actually doing. Instead, we’re simply trying to say that choice is, in and of itself, an important value that cannot simply be shunted aside and disregarded. I’m not sure how many times I need to repeat this, but as I keep saying: I have no idea and no opinion as to which mode of trash collection is preferable for other jurisdictions.

                But because of that fact, I think it preposterous to simply ridicule and dismiss the concerns of citizens in another jurisdiction about choice being deprived from them and to simply assume away that choice in this particular situation (or in all situations, as Atrios suggests) is clearly and inherently outweighed by other considerations.Report

              • Francis in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                It’s what you’re saying now; it’s not what you said (or the tone you used) originally.Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Francis says:

                From the original post:

                That’s not to say that everyone, everywhere should favor the free market approach to trash collection. It is, however, to say that what Atrios “wants” isn’t necessarily what everyone else “wants” in any meaningful way and that his “wants” are not entitled to any special preference over my “wants,” particularly when he and I -and the citizens of this particular town – live in different jurisdictions. Report

            • pandera in reply to Francis says:

              @Francis. Dude, you’re a hero for wading into this swamp of libertarian fantasy. It has been refreshing to hear somebody talk about the hard realities and rippling complexities that are involved in providing basic public services. Public services which make our glorious “free” market possible no matter how badly some would like to believe the lie that markets are “rational”. Thanks.Report

          • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

            “Oh, I’m sure that both of them are *ALL OVER* why municipalities have little interest in a free market for trash (or water or sewage).”

            What they don’t seem to be ‘all over’ is that municipalities seem to have a fractured interest in the trash market. Why is the market for business trash usually free without a town selected provider? Why is it usually free for a homeowner to hire their own trash company for dumpster level trash? If this was really about a desire to play ‘central planner’ certainly towns could do monopolies here and the companies that win the contract would be more than happy for the guaranteed business.

            The fact that these aspects of the market are almost never contracted by municipalities but regular residential pick up is hints that it very well might be a free market solution to opt for a single company by bid for a contract that runs a few years.Report

  25. Boonton says:

    In economic terms you want to achieve the lowest possible average cost in trash pickup. Competiting trash companies has some positives and negatives. On the positive side the competition is good at lowering the cost of ‘economic profits’. On the negative side you increase costs. You increase costs because more trucks have to roam about town, trucks have to make runs only partially filled and you have the administrative costs of dealing with hundreds of accounts (haulers can’t just pick up the entire street, they have to know which houses are theirs and which aren’t). On top of this you also have to include external costs (noise, safety, bad incentives for deadbeats etc.).

    The municiple contract scores well on all of those and the one area it doesn’t is possibly ‘economic profits’. However since contracts are awarded by bidding there seems to be no particular reason why the ‘monopoly problem’ can’t be put in check and countered by other efficiencies.

    The libertarian counter is ‘why don’t we have everything supplied by town contracts?’. Well I think the reason is that trash pickup tends to be a very homogenous service for residential homes. Most people are quite happy with two or three cans and maybe some special procedures for tossing large items and that’s it. The opportunity of being able to choose multiple ‘trash plans’ simply doesn’t offset the cost of having competiting companies administer individualized garbage accounts in most cases, hence lots (but not all) towns opt for the standard trash contract.

    What’s interesting is that businesses are one area where ‘one size does not fit all’. Businesses all generate radically different amounts and types of garbage and a ‘weekly pickup’ would neither fit all of them nor be fair. It’s not surprising then that you almost never see service for businesses done at the town level.

    This hints that we aren’t talking about central planning here but rather a quite rational and quite market based economic decision that is happening at the local level/Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Boonton says:

      But different folks measure different things differently as costs.

      Some people love the idea of recycling and want 4 different bins… aluminum, glass, paper, and compost. Some people just want single stream. Some people say “I don’t want to sort my damn trash” and don’t want recycling at all. Some people value convenience over money, others money over convenience.

      Different people have different costs for different things and money isn’t the only one that ought to be taken into consideration (though, granted, it is a lot more measurable than the presence of good feelings or the absence of bad ones).

      Saying “The opportunity of being able to choose multiple ‘trash plans’ simply doesn’t offset the cost of having competiting companies administer individualized garbage accounts in most cases, hence lots (but not all) towns opt for the standard trash contract” waves away the whole “different people value different things differently thing.

      The opportunity of being able to choose is worth a great deal to me.

      It’s obviously not worth so much to you.Report

      • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

        “Some people love the idea of recycling and want 4 different bins… aluminum, glass, paper, and compost. Some people just want single stream. Some people say “I don’t want to sort my damn trash” and don’t want recycling at all. Some people value convenience over money, others money over convenience.”

        If you want a single stream then toss them into a single bin and hire someone to divide them into the 4 different bins for pickup. Since these people value convenience over money what’s the problem?

        Likewise if you want to sort intensely then do so, just drive your own recycleables to a recycling center and don’t take advantage of the town provided pickup.Report

      • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

        And let’s get real here, you don’t get a free floating ‘choice’ anywhere. The ‘market’ may give you a choice between limited sorting and 4 way sorting but it isn’t going to offer you 16 way sorting. Likewise you don’t care “all about convenience” and “not about money”. You, like everyone else, have a set of all possible ‘trash packages’ at all possible prices. You divide those into 3 sets; those that you would accept, those that you wouldn’t and those you’re indifferent about. Of that infinite set of all possible packages at all possible prices, there is a limited set of packages and prices that suppliers can offer you. Suppliers are limited by their cost functions. For example, while a penny per week with a ten way sort may be fine for you there is simply no way for any supplier to cover their marginal costs while offering you that marginal package so that package is unavailable to you.

        By opting for a single provider, the town is lowering many fixed costs. As such it moves the set of available packages lower down the price line. By insisting on multiple providers YOU are advocating higher fixed costs which moves the set of available packages up the price line. You say you are insisting on more ‘choice’ but you’re not. You’re just pushing for a different set of possible choices while closing off another set of choices that were previously available before you infected the town with your libertarian ideology. You haven’t articulated a reason why these dueling sets of possible choices should yield to you rather than to the democratic process.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Boonton says:

          Well, the wacky thing, is that I tend to see “more choices” as preferable to “fewer choices”.

          As such, the choice between “the duly elected muckitymucks came to this conclusion on your behalf” and “MOVE TO SOMALIA!” is a less good option than “Trash Company A”, “Trash Company B”, and “MOVE TO SOMALIA!”

          Personally, I think that “Trash Company A”, “Trash Company B”, “Trash Company C”, and “MOVE TO SOMALIA!” would be an even better set.

          You seem to assume that the corporation and the government would not collude together having established a contract with each other and screw over the citizenry.

          Hey, maybe they won’t. Wouldn’t that be nice?

          It seems more likely to me that they would.

          As such, I’d prefer companies that knew that they’d have to step it up at least as much as the other guys (if not more) if they wanted to keep my $65/3 months.

          You seem to think that a good government working with a good corporation would provide good service at good value for the hard-earned dollars of the citizens.

          As you are a native of New Jersey, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to sway you in your thinking one iota given the veritable paradise that governments working with corporations have created there.Report

          • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

            But the choices you close off is, say, nice uniform pickup of two cans on Wednesday for about $25 a month. You say that Company A, two can pick up for $35 a month and Company B one can pickup for $26 a month is ‘more choice’ but it isn’t. It’s a different set of choices at a different set of prices. While you’ve expanded choice in one dimension you’ve closed it off in other dimensions* Probably the most relevant ‘choice dimension’ you’ve closed off here is the ability of people to choose to do otherthings with their money than choose botique garbage plans from competiting garbage companies.

            * Cost is only one dimension you’ve shortened. Others include the ability to have streets that are mostly clear of truck traffic is likewise closed off by your policy. Atrios is bashed because the desire to have some ‘choice’ in these dimensions is trashed but your hypothetical desire to have a menu of different companies (a desire almost no one really has other than people trying to prove an ideological point) not only seems to trump all other choice dimensions but seeks to deny them legitimacy.

            I am a native of NJ and the issue NJ has had with garbage isn’t so much municiple contracts but something called ‘waste flow’ which is where the counties (not towns) have tried to monopolize the transfer station business (transfer stations are where the garbage gets dumped and reloaded into bigger trucks that take the trash to landfills in PA, Ohio and so on). As a result Morris county may cost $160 a ton to dump but Essex County (which has the Newark incinerator) may cost $60. In a normal market the Newark incinerator would receive garbage from all over northern NJ but instead Morris County garbage has to go to the Morris County transfer station which is either run by Morris County or set up with some type of sweatheart deal. The counties with wasteflow police this by monitoring whose dumpsters are out around the county and then comparing that with the companies dumping at the transfer station. This racket used to be done on the state level but the SC ruled it struck it down but it continues in (some) NJ counties with cases pending.Report

          • Boonton in reply to Jaybird says:

            Again the question that should be asked here is why do you see municiple residential contracts but rarely see the same for businesses? The answer is that residential needs are remarkably uniform. This shouldn’t be very surprising because residences are made quite uniform by zoning laws. So while there’s a great diversity in what people consume, there’s not a lot of diversity in the amount of trash they produce. For the most part weekly or bi-weekly pickup of 2-3 cans suffices for nearly all families and thanks to zoning laws you mostly got one family per house.

            The nature of pickup is likewise pretty uniform. You load it into a truck and dump it at a transfer station usually for a set price per ton. So really the only way to compete on price in this business is to lower your costs and the biggest cost driver is running half-empty trucks to the transfer station. Hence the nature of the market is to drive towards a single provider (or several large providers) who have enough business to utilize their trucks as much as possible. So you got a pretty powerful external benefit in THIS case for a single contract that you don’t get in most other markets (like business pickup). Likewise there are some external costs that you incur from multiple providers that you don’t usually get with most markets. For example if your neighbor doesn’t pay his cable bill his tV is turned off. Don’t usually impact you. If he skimps on his garbage fees he may start stockpiling trash in his yard or slipping bags into your cans late at night. And, of course, the issue of having more trucks roaming the streets than necessary.

            So very uniform demand, potent externalities favoring a single provider as well as externalities disfavoring multiple providers means a pretty good argument in favor of municiple contracts that is ot about ‘nany statism’ or ‘central planning’. It also explains why not all municipalities opt for a signal provider AND why even ones that do are uninterested in applying the concept to other markets (business pickup, furniture delievery, newspaper distribution etc.)Report

  26. billhub says:

    From a first-timer:

    What a bracing set of arguments! This tiny news story seems to raise all the relevant issues. Too bad the folks in Fountain Hills aren’t approaching this with the consideration and rationality of you folks:

    Talk about “picking a hill to die on”!Report

    • billhub in reply to billhub says:

      Two “pluses” for Boston awarding– competitively– a monopoly to (private) Waste Management for trash pickup here in the South End:

      I don’t have to mark my calendar to remind me to put out the trash on Tuesdays and Fridays: I just watch the curbs for plastic bags, and I follow suit.

      In return for the monopoly, Boston got Waste Management to agree to single-stream recycling; and (more remarkable) to pick up everything non-toxic put out on the curb– unwanted couches, pruned tree-branches, Christmas trees, and (a seasonal touch) burnt-out pumpkins.

      Maybe a market-competitive environment would have resulted in one further step– picking up cathode-ray monitors and batteries– but I somehow doubt it.


      • Francis in reply to billhub says:

        Great example. In a sole-source negotiation, the City was in a much better position to demand the additional services. If the City split the contract between two providers, each would in return sharply limit the services provided. A few years back, a friend lived in such a city. The hauler would not take away anything not in a can with the lid fully closed. He recounted having to jump on the top of the trash can before setting it out. The elected officials were advised that this particular approach was not preferred. The new contract may be a few cents more per pickup, but he doesn’t have to play human trash compactor.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to Francis says:

          Generally, I agree that bulk negotiation can get you things you might not otherwise get.

          However, this is weighed against the fact that bulk negotiation can also give away things that you might not realize you’re giving up.

          In a perfectly engaged, information-transparent rational society an all-democratic government would likely approach arbitrarily close to a benevolent dictatorship in efficiency. So would a perfectly engaged, information-transparent rational society of all-individualists.

          The question is, when those citizens aren’t engaged (either because they’re busy, apathetic, or perhaps feel like they ought not to be, like the citizens of Bell), how quickly does the bulk negotiator turn from giving the people what they want to giving the service company a big fat contract in exchange for some hookers and blow, and maybe a campaign contribution?

          How much effort do you place in troubleshooting and auditing that possibility? Is the overhead of audit less than the advantage of the bulk negotiation? Or more?

          This is obviously a case-by-case evaluation.Report

  27. gadfly says:

    Somehow missed in all this controversy is the fact that the government contract was negotiated and created where no contract was needed or wanted before. The impetus to create likely came from Town Manager Rick Davis, who admittedly was influenced by his prior dealings with mega-trash companies in the Salt Lake area.

    The winner, in more ways than one, was Allied Waste, who ended up getting a five year deal by cutting their $18 per month charge to $11 (39% down) for a 50% reduction of the number of stops per week.

    If the Town of Fountain Hills wanted to help residents with the cost of trash pickup, the Town Council needed only to alter its own rule requiring that private haulers pick up garbage twice weekly. Without the onerous government contract interfering, I am confident that the resident’s math skill would prove to be better than the elected officials in negotiating their own fee reductions . . . and having multiple services competing would assure this result.Report