Sunday, January 2, 2011

Slime Beneath the City's Fallen Snow

New York City Counicilman Dan Halloran is New York's only major elected official with a libertarian background.  Last week, a major snow storm afflicted the Big Apple.  Just as in 1969 during the mayoralty of the late John W. Linday, the Sanitation Department failed to perform.  There was public snit about the lack of snow removal.  My good friend Glenda McGee forwarded a December 30 New York Post article quoting Halloran as saying that managers from within the Sanitation Department had ordered a work slowdown.  If it occurred, it lead to deaths and other serious harm.  According to informants who brought the information to Halloran, the protest concerned promotions and budget cuts.  Union officials Harry Nespoli and Joseph Mannion as well as Sanitation Department spokesperson Matthew Lipani deny a slowdown occurred.  However, the Post asserts that multiple Sanitation Department sources have said that:

"angry plow drivers have only been clearing streets assigned to them even if that means they have to drive through snowed-in roads with their plows raised...One mechanic said some drivers are purposely smashing plows and salt spreaders to further stall the cleanup effort."

Mayor Bloomberg's absurd response was to blame residents for shoveling snow into streets.  But according to Halloran, "snitches" said that:

"they were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file."

It is time to privatize the Department of Sanitation.  Competition has drastically improved the dismal telephone service of the former New York Telephone (I remember when one had to restrict long distance calls because of high costs, for instance). New York's sanitation workers are paid much more than comparable private sector workers.  Here in rural Olive, New York snow removal usually is complete within a day or at most two after a storm despite higher highway mileage per capita.  The little city of Kingston, NY, 25 miles from here, also has a public sanitation department that is inefficient and in need of privatization.

Mayor Bloomberg's response to the accusations of shirking and inefficiency in his Santitation Department has been cowardly.

I wrote the following letter to Mayor Bloomberg:

PO Box 130
West Shokan, NY 12494

Mayor Michael Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

As someone who relies on New York City to earn my livelihood, I urge you to privatize the New York City Sanitation Department.  According to Councilman Dan Halloran and the New York Post, the recent John Lindsay-like problems that you have suffered result from an illegal, irresponsible and murderous work stoppage. 

The Sanitation Department is not functioning competently or morally.  Its workers are overpaid and under-productive.  The irresponsible stoppage caused people to die. You are the person ultimately responsible to investigate and ferret out the malefactors.  But much more important action is needed.  It is time to eliminate a white elephant that New Yorkers cannot afford.


Mitchell Langbert


Anonymous said...

Yes D. Langbert, let us privatize. Chicago privatized its parking meters and a Chinese company owns them today. In New York, we need to privatize the roads, the education system, everything. Let the Chinese own our assets. Who cares.

Pinni said...

Without discounting the need to privatize the sanitation department, you should also put some blame on Bloomberg via his deputy mayor:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Langbert:
I see a duality in your writing. On the one hand, you rail against the FED and the bankers; on the other hand, you are firm in the belief of the powers of capitalism. I cannot, bring these two threads in your thinking together.
It is capitalism that has bought us to this stage. Capitalism has picked the winners and these are the Bankers and Wall Street.
The Germans have realized the conundrum that they were in. Germany's method of creating wealth is straightforward:
1. Produce a highly educated workforce.
2. Have that workforce create and make advanced, precision things for high wages.
3. Export the things at a high price and then re-invest that money back into item 1.

This is why Germany is the Number 2 exporter in the world despite having only 27 percent of America's population and only 6 percent of Number 1 exporter China. The Germans realize they cannot beat either China or India based on cost. Advanced nations can't compete on cost. America could bust all the unions, get rid of the minimum wage, eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations. Germany decided to avoid going down the same path of downward spiral among its middle class that we are in. Instead, they invest in their people and in research.

This stands in stark contrast to the America's current policy, which can basically be summed up as:
1. Let the market work by having government not interfere.
2. If the market doesn't work, give the market a bunch of public debt money.

In short, America has no industrial policy or framework for future growth. Whenever you bring up an American industrial policy, the first thing Republicans trot out is the old "don't pick winners and losers" shtick. The problem is that no policy at all does pick winners and losers. The winners will be financial speculators and others who can manipulate information faster than everyone else.

Dr. Langbert, pure capitalism does not work. Moreover, can you fuse the two threads of your thinking.

Anonymous said...

We know what Reagan would have done.
Fire them all.

Mitchell Langbert said...

I am having trouble piecing together the connection between New York's bloated private sector and bigoted hatred of the Chinese. Reagan was imperfect, but one of his smartest steps was making it clear that public unions do not have carte blanche to rape American taxpayers who typically earn less than they do.

Mitchell Langbert said...

Pinni--the article manages to attack privatization without making clear what the connection between incompetence in the Sanitation Department and privatization is. It starts out saying that Goldsmith is for privatization and is to blame, but it doesn't mention that nothing has been privatized and the publicly run Sanitation Department failed to clean the snow properly.

Clearly diabolical Chinese privatizers are to blame for Bloomberg's mismanagement and the failure of the public run SD to do the minimal job its employees are paid 40% more than private sector workers to do.

Pinni said...

The article is not well-written, but it lists a few mistakes Bloomberg made that aggravated the subsequent slowdown. It is a Daily News article so one cannot expect too much from it.

Mitchell Langbert said...

Dear Anonymous:

The American philosophy has been to encourage, not prevent, government interference. Roughly 50% of the American economy goes to government. I'm puzzled why you would think that 50% of the economy can go to government but government does not interfere.

Moreover, there is intense regulation of most aspects of the economy. For example, manufacturing firms are required to give 10 minute breaks to employees who qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act and to keep track of the amount of time. Complicated notification requirements are involved. Compliance with this and numerous other laws (another example with which I have first hand experience is pension regulation) raises costs and encourages firms to leave the country.

The chief government support is the Federal Reserve Bank. Europe similarly protects its firms through monetary policy. Germany and the US have similar systems. Both are social democratic. Both have retained a degree of liberalism but both have too much government control to be innovative.

Free market economies minimize the amount of government subsidies. It is true that in 19th century America there were tariffs. But the most innovative sectors of the US economy in that period were not subsidized in any way. There has never been a period of innovation equal to that of late 19th century America, and also 19th century England. Much of 20th century innovation such as television and radio amounted to elaboration on inventions of the laissez faire period (Tesla filed the patents on which radio and TV are based in 1897).

Many people exposed to public school education and left wing ideology (i.e., who have not been exposed to the ideas of American and Lockean liberalism and have been indoctrinated by left-wing public schools) do not understand the meaning of concepts like "free markets" and the neutral meaning of "capitalism" as reflected in the writings of John Locke and Adam Smith (both of which I recommend, incidentally).

You are confused by the use of words. Although the American economy is commonly called "capitalism" the system in the United States is socialistic and increasingly has been since 1908. The Fed is a government, hence socialistic, institution.

There was a major shift in American ideology in 1890 which moved America away from the free market philosophy of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party and which the Republican Party increasingly subverted starting with the Civil War and culminating with the Progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt. The Democrats took the nation further from freedom. Reagan made a few moves in the pro-freedom direction but re-introduced traditional Republican Progressivism, especially Federal Reserve monetary expansion and Keynesian economics (called "supply side" economics).

Germany was the nation that invented Progressivism or social democracy under the leadership of Bismarck. It culminated in Hitler's rise. After the war the Germans under Konrad Adenauer greatly liberalized their economy and reduced the degree of socialism. Their economy has been stable and has grown but has lacked the innovative power of more free market 19th century economies. The liberal Swedish economy of the 19th century invented dynamite. The socialist Swedish economy of the 20th distributed Alfred Nobel's profits.

Mitchell Langbert said...

The way I refer to capitalism is as the absence of government control and power. It is freedom in the economic sphere. The word "capitalism" can also refer to variants of socialism. For instance, Nazi Germany had a socialistic, government-dominated economy that included food and health care rationing. However, many historians (inaccurately) refer to National Socialism as capitalism. Likewise, the Progressivism that has been increasingly applied in the United States has as little to do with Jacksonian Adam Smith's laissez faire as do the economies of Germany or Sweden.

The German economy has NOT been performing all that well in recent years. The integration of Europe contributes to their exports. But the Mittelstand has had serious problems with Chinese competition. The unemployment rate in Germany since 2003 has varied between 12% and 7.5%. Their norm has been what we are experiencing now. Despite a strong, stable workforce the German economy has never been a major source of innovation as England and then the US were under 19th century laissez faire. Inventors like Nikola Tesla came here because their ideas could not be implemented in socialistic or social democratic Europe. Now, America has followed suit.

What you don't seem to realize is that the industrial economy is an exception in world history. Human beings lived for a million or two years but it was only under laissez faire capitalism that industrialism was invented. As socialism has overtaken freedom, the pace of innovation has slowed. Whether it slowed with workers doing better or Wall Street doing better,

We have poured large amounts of money into education, by the way, more than in Europe I believe (or at least a comparable amount) so education spending has little to do with the problems you're discussing. The problem with American education is generated by the government-controlled education system. Special interest politics has not worked the same way elsewhere (the left in American has taken a special interest in education and so harmed educational policy in ways that are not so in Japan and Germany). Diane Ravitch's "Left Back: A History of School Reform in America" describes the tragedy of "Progressive" education here and the harm that the education schools followed by the public education establishment have perpetrated on American students despite massive amounts of money being thrown at education.

If you want to learn about the difference between free market capitalism and the Progressive system of government here in 21st century America I recommend a few books:

1. Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism
2. Murray Rothbard and Ronald Radosh, A New History of Leviathan
3. Murray Rothbard, What Has Government Done to Our Money