The socialized costs and privatized profits of waste disposal

In her response to my post about Commissioners panic about trash at undisclosed location, Barbara Stratton seems unfamiliar (like most people) with economic externalities. Here’s a definition:

A negative externality occurs when an individual or firm making a decision does not have to pay the full cost of the decision. If a good has a negative externality, then the cost to society is greater than the cost consumer is paying for it. Since consumers make a decision based on where their marginal cost equals their marginal benefit, and since they don’t take into account the cost of the negative externality, negative externalities result in market inefficiencies unless proper action is taken.

When a negative externality exists in an unregulated market, producers don’t take responsibility for external costs that exist—these are passed on to society.

Which is socializing the losses. A famous ongoing case of this is BP making record corporate profits while dumping huge amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, continuing to destroy shrimping, wetlands, wildlife, and local people’s health.

And that’s what the County Commission is doing: privatizing the profits of trash pickup and socializing the losses onto landowners (who have to pay for fences and gates), onto the general public (who have to pay for law enforcement to catch dumpers), and onto those who can’t afford to pay for private dump fees (who will get stuck with fines instead). That is indeed, as Barbara says, “redistribution of wealth”: redistribution from the rest of us to the private waste pickup companies.

The Commission is ducking its responsibility to find an equitable solution that everyone can afford. Funny how they can deal with special tax lighting districts for subdivisions but they claim they can’t come up with a way to publicly fund waste collection. Could it be because all the voting Commissioners are town-dwellers who don’t understand that rural people don’t have exactly the same needs or resources as city people?

Barbara advocates,

“If privatization is chosen it should be a complete division with no public/private partnership bleed over and no other avenues for crony capitalism or conflict of interest influences.”

Privatization isn’t the solution to this problem. Privatization is what started this problem, when the county privatized the county dump years ago. There is no such thing as complete privatization. Private trash pickup companies will use trucks that follow publicly-mandated safety standards, over the publicly-funded roads, patrolled by the publicly-funded sheriff’s department: all those socialist services we all pay for. Our society is, and always has been, a mix of socialism and capitalism. You can’t have capitalism without contracts, which are judged and enforced by publicly-funded governments. But indeed, we should avoid crony capitalism and conflict of interest.

Barbara recommends:

“It would be a good idea to keep transparency a high priority”

Public meetings and public hearings are a fine idea. Even when they do hold a “public hearing” they sometimes fail to entertain questions from citizens, like they did in their budget hearing last summer.

Sometimes reminding the Commission to hold a public hearing required by guidelines they voted for, as with the Comprehensive Plan, can result in that hearing finally being held.

The last time the county held public meetings about waste disposal, they weren’t really intended for input from the public. Former Chairman Rod Casey told the VDT before they started:

“We’ve looked at the solid-waste management issue from every possible angle…”.

“This plan will be explained in detail to the public and a campaign will also be held to make sure that everyone is informed as the plan is phased in through Dec. 31.”

That was the plan that failed because no private vendor would bid at the one rate that the county specified. So the Commissioners and staff didn’t know everything, after all.

And what did County Manager Joe Pritchard learn from those public meetings?

“I went through eight public meetings, better described as floggings, where the public just vented every ounce of frustration they ever had relating to solid waste over that time period,” said Joe Pritchard, county manager. “That was not a pleasant process. Yes, we need to come up with a way of notifying the public, but I’m here to tell you, that public meetings is not it.”

That’s right: to the county public input is merely an unpleasant inconvenience that gets in the way of the county “notifying” the public about what they Commissioners and staff already decided.

That the county has now held two meetings about waste disposal to which the public wasn’t even invited to listen indicates they haven’t changed their tune about public input.

Does that seem right to you?


2 thoughts on “The socialized costs and privatized profits of waste disposal

  1. Barbara Stratton

    Our founding fathers intended for government to serve the people. Now the people have become an inconvenience to the government that has become an end all autocracy. Management styles always flow from top down once autocracy takes hold. Our local government entities are modeling the nanny state ideologies flowing down from DC and through state entities. Grass root citizen groups must reclaim the citizen right to control the government before these autocratic get out of our way dictates form themselves into precedents and designer legislations. We must continue our non-partisan pursuit of transparency and open records even when our individual citizen viewpoints are not mirror images. Persistent pressure from the ground up will eventually begin to counter the narcissistic autocratic ideology funneling down from the top.

  2. Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

    Well, a little reading in local histories of the area or talking to people who were involved even a generation or two back indicates that Lowndes County has always been a cliquish sort of place, mostly run by old boys, for reasons that made some sense in the early days (lack of resources, mainly), but doesn’t so much anymore in these days of I-75 and I-10, airport, Moody AFB, regional university, technical university system, two hospitals and medical industry, and south Georgia sunshine we can export to Atlanta and points north. However, you’re right that there is a source of top-down autocracy in DC: it’s called ALEC. That’s where the push for private prisons, charter schools, and other shadowy things we’ve been shining a light on have been coming from.

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