Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Means of Production

I was on my way to Gallup Park today and I passed a street with lots of signs opposing any privatization of the Huron Hills Golf Course.

Which made me think about the proposed privatization of City of Ann Arbor composting, where--in addition to privatizing--they want to consider an out-of-state company over an in-state company that would save the city more money.

Which made me think about why it is that when I get a City of Ann Arbor parking ticket I have to send it to New York state. Is there no local company that could process parking tickets?

Which made me think about the privatization of school bus transportation, and why it is that it is not working out so well for Ypsilanti, which now has to shell out up to $180,000 more to cover routes that aren't being covered properly, despite previous assurances by the WISD that they would ensure proper coverage.

And that made me think about Karl Marx. No, I'm not a Marxist (except maybe for the Groucho kind), and I'm definitely not a Marx expert, but I believe that Marx was on to something when he said that we should be concerned about who controls the means of production.

In the case of the golf course, the land itself is the means of production.
In the case of the compost, the compost and the composting technology are both the means of production.
In the case of the school buses, the buses are the means of production. (Marx's idea of means of production separates out human capital, so it's not the drivers.)

In the case of schools, the schools themselves are means of production--even when it's not an assembly-line education.

And we the people should be careful about giving up control of the means of turns out to be not so easy to get it back, sometimes.

On a related note (well, I thought it was related), you might be interested in Mark Maynard's post: Bill Moyers on Plutocracy.


  1. I have no problem with the privatization at all. I have delt with the city for years and the outrageous prices they force upon landlords for their mandatory housing inspections. They are way beyond what anyone charges in the private sector. The taxpayers in Ann Arbor cannot afford the price of city workers mainly because of the lucrative retirement plans that allow them to retire young and take very handsome pensions. It just is not a sustainable operation and real changes need to be made. That said, I am sure there are local companies that can do the job at a very reasonable price.

  2. In the case of the compost operations, the city staff are recommending an out-of-state company even though a Michigan company is offering a better price.

  3. I'm skeptical of the ability to turn the tide against privatization. That said, I think there are a few checks on it that would be appropriate:

    LOCAL PREFERENCES: A couple of years ago the County voted down a proposal for a local-purchase preference. They argued that they didn't have the money to pay extra to local companies (that is, the companies that actually contribute tax dollars to the country).

    I thought then, and still think now, that the city and the county should be willing to pay a small premium to hire local contractors. If a Michigan company can process parking tickets within, say, 5% of the cost of the New York outfit, then let's keep the money local.

    LIVING WAGE: The city (and I believe the county) currently have living wage regulations that require contractors to pay their employees a living wage. However, to the best of my knowledge, other local governments do not have similar provisions. As we see more privatization of school service, that seems like a natural area to secure living wage guidelines.

  4. On another but similar note --- how many city of Ann Arbor employees live outside the city and pay no city taxes? answer -- quite a few. Is this the same issue? Should the city hire city residents? If that requirement was proposed, the people that are pushing for a local company will be protesting for sure.

  5. In some states, jurisdictions do have residency requirements for their employees. I believe that used to be legal in Michigan but no longer is, because of state law.