Atrios, Emptywheel, and plenty of others in the comments disagree with my post on choice. And many points being made are quite good: it is inefficient to have multiple trash collectors blocking up traffic, causing road damage, polluting the air, etc. That’s why the Fountain Hills council decided to grant the monopoly in the first place. There’s nothing pernicious in this decision. It’s a financially sensible decision.
But this is government we’re talking about, and government can’t always be efficient because we don’t live in a totalitarian state where everything is done by technocratic acolytes of the gods of efficiency. We live in a democracy, and in a democracy people have the right to make stupid choices. If the people of Fountain Hills don’t want a monopoly trash collection service even if it will save them money and cut down on pollution, then they have every right to be pissed off about this decision. It’s not your town, it’s their town, their street, their choice even if you think it’s a stupid one. You can make choices about your own street and they can make choices about theirs.
I could argue further about whether a biddable contract equals a monopoly (in this case it does – again, if Dell were to win a biddable contract to be the sole provider of all computers in the United States for five years that would still be a monopoly even if they bid on it, even if they only had it for five year. It would not be a monopoly if it were merely a single job – say the construction of a building on a college campus, or the single purchase of Dell computers for the Education Department.)
I could point out that the contractor granted trash collection rights in Fountain Hills is a corporation and that this sort of thing is a corporatist’s wet dream and something liberals especially should be wary of endorsing. The most efficient and sensible thing to do would be to provide the town with a public municipal trash service, cutting out the middle-man and the corporatist trap altogether. A public service is one thing; a private service mandated by the state is something else entirely. Yes, both limit choice, but at least one is a public service and not an act of crony capitalism.
My real point, though, is that this is a democracy and we don’t always do what’s efficient or best in a democracy. That’s why you have folks like Tom Friedman pining for Chinese style authoritarianism to help save the environment. They think it would be more efficient. And it might be, but that doesn’t really make it right.
The questions simply becomes – do we, as a people, have the right to make stupid choices? Should we be allowed to choose whether or not our children can have happy meals? Can our children purchase violent video games? Can we choose to implement (or retain) inefficient trash collection systems? Liberty and stupidity are often close bedfellows, but while we can easily extinguish the former, the latter is here to stay.
Mark Thompson explains Kip’s Law and how it relates to trash collection.