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September 22, 2003

LOOKING OUT FOR #1....I'm just copying this from Atrios, but it's really too good to pass up.

Alaska congressman Don Young, who supports efforts to privatize air traffic control, got two Alaska airports struck from the privatization hit list. Why the concern?

"Of course the criticism of myself," he said, "is that I exempted the state of Alaska." But there were ample reasons for that, he said, ticking off a number of them.

"Lastly," Young said, "my hotel room is on the top floor of the Sheraton, and the airplanes take right off towards my hotel room. Every morning I look out and there's one coming right at me. It's an interesting experience and I want to make sure everything is done right in that field."

I assure you that we all feel the same way, Don.

Posted by Kevin Drum at September 22, 2003 09:37 AM | TrackBack


Comments

If you want safe air travel, commie-symp, well then BUY IT!

Posted by: squiddy at September 22, 2003 09:43 AM | PERMALINK

Welfare reform for all those guys over there! Everyone else needs a stronger Moral Hazard! You people - work harder! And for less pay! Me, I'm underpaid and overworked!

I've got it - Republicans: the "do as I say, not as I do" party.

Posted by: craigie at September 22, 2003 09:45 AM | PERMALINK

Sigh. One of the great tragedies of Congress is that they get to expempt themselves from practically everything important.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at September 22, 2003 09:53 AM | PERMALINK

Well, Don Young, as pointed out on 60 Minutes last night, has a lot of clout in Congress...enough even to defy Bush on the building of a Natural Gas Pipeline through Alaska.

This surprises me not at all that he would NIMBY the privatization scheme.

Posted by: Paul at September 22, 2003 09:56 AM | PERMALINK

Young obviously believes that the privatization scheme will reduce safety, not just for the flying public, but for those nearby, as well. Regardless of his risk assessment, he still wants to proceed as long as his butt is covered.

Posted by: exgop at September 22, 2003 09:59 AM | PERMALINK

This exposes privatization for the sham that it is.

A lot of rhetoric was issued about the efficiencies of the market vs. having the gov't do things itself. The rhetoric is very uplifting, and makes fine references to the work of various economists, American history, etc. However, at implementation time, what it amounts to is a funnel-money-to-your-buddies scheme. If this boob actually believed the maketplace could do the job better, he'd feel no need to exempt himself from its operations. But he knows that isn't what will happen. Some insider will be given this contract, and only the barest minimum of attention with thenceforward be paid to air traffic control by the winner of the contract. But much of your tax dollars will go into that winner's wallet.

Hypocrisy, and cynical manipulation. The only mystifying aspect of it is how they get right wingers who don't pocket the money to defend it for them. I guess they have no self respect, to allow themselves to be played for fools by these folks.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan at September 22, 2003 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Deregulation isn't such a good thing when it comes to basic infrastructure like air traffic control. ATC is a safety service that must be provided, obviously. That the U.S. ATC has to coordinate air travel for an entire country and then some means that balkanizing it among many private service providers is not a Good Idea.

Posted by: David W. at September 22, 2003 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

If privatizing ATCs will save money, how about privatizing most of the military? We could even hire 'Their' boys to go fight 'Them' and not lose any Americans in a given conflict.

Makes just as much sense to me.

Henry

"The difference between you and the government is that the government has men with guns who spend a lot of time sitting in parking lots eating doughnuts."

Posted by: Henry Richardson at September 22, 2003 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Privitization is not the free market. The government is still providing the service, its just contracting it out. As such, many (I would say most) of the benefits dissipate. Governments still face an agency problem, but now its once removed making it harder to overcome.

Posted by: Rob at September 22, 2003 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

I've stayed at that Sheraton (assuming it's the Sheraton Anchorage) and spent an evening eating a room service meal while watching planes fly toward my window. It was better than television.

What Young doesn't mention is that the airport is the old Anchorage airport which is used primarily for private and smaller planes. It's not like he's about to have a 767 or large jet come crashing through the window.

Posted by: Randy Paul at September 22, 2003 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Privitization is not the free market. The government is still providing the service, its just contracting it out. As such, many (I would say most) of the benefits dissipate. Governments still face an agency problem, but now its once removed making it harder to overcome.

PLUS you now have an extra layer (at least) of management and communication AND the cost of the contractor's profit has to be added to the cost of the service.

Tell me again how privatizing increases efficiency and reduces costs for basic government services?

It's a crock, boys and girls. Yet, somehow, it has become some kind of magical article of faith.

But hey, at least the middle management/middle man redundancy of this contract-everything-out scheme will help increase employment. I was wondering how they were going to solve that rising productivity problem.

Posted by: Julia Grey at September 22, 2003 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

What's more, it's been a religion for long enough now (I'm thinking especially of the Thatcher "revolution" in Britain) that the effects can be measured. It isn't just theory any more.

Let's look at Britain. Privatized trains. Whoops, lots more crashes.
Privatized water. Hmmm, lots of instant millionaires in middle management, but just the same old water. Oh, and it costs more.
Privatized airports. Not so bad, I suppose, if you like traveling through a shopping mall to get to your plane. And of course, they demand the continued welfare of duty-free zones.

Like most religions, the reality just never quite matches up to the expectations.

Posted by: craigie at September 22, 2003 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

This illustrates one of my gripes about capitalism. I know, I know, no one in America can ever criticize capitalism.

Still, here I go. We have become slaves to efficiency. If something is more efficient (cheaper) than another, we go the cheap route.

The problem is some things you may not want to go to the lowest bidder. Some things have advantages that are not measurable in dollars and cents.

For example, let us say a community can build either 3 local elementary schools, or 1 big mega-school. The mega-school may be cheaper, even including the added transportation cost, but what have they lost?

At a local school, the kids can walk to school. Some will be accompanied by their parents, who will meet other parents, maybe even spending a few minutes a day chatting outside the school. A sense of community is built.

With the mega-school, the children are bused. No parents ever ride the bus, and the parents don't meet each other. They don't feel as connected to the school. There is no community built.

Still, to the taxpayer, we must be as economical as we can. It is hard enough to get school funding without adding in extras such as 'building communities.' In America, the bottom line is always settled by dollars and cents. If it can't be measured monetarily it doesn't matter. Everything is a business.

Posted by: Tripp at September 22, 2003 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

What Craigie said.

David W. wrote,

"That the U.S. ATC has to coordinate air travel for an entire country and then some means that balkanizing it among many private service providers is not a Good Idea."

Yes, and see what happened when Britain balkanized its train service.

Posted by: Simon at September 22, 2003 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'm paraphrasing a note Homer wrote to Bart, but it sums up my feelings for "privatize it all, let the market sort it out" folks,

ahem,

You Die Scum!

Posted by: Tim at September 22, 2003 03:30 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp - arguably that's a failure in the specification. What we want is to achieve goal [x] in the most efficient way. Your example demonstrates that in some cases efficient execution of goal [x] reveals that that goal was poorly described and we really wanted goal [y].

Posted by: aphrael at September 22, 2003 03:50 PM | PERMALINK

Heh.

Kos kidnapped the same same posting.

There's an interesting account of a recently retired FAA ATC in the comment thread (name is YankeeZulu), who did Quality Supervision for private contractors. Provides some insight why private contractors seem to have less problems.

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at September 22, 2003 03:56 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp - arguably that's a failure in the specification. What we want is to achieve goal [x] in the most efficient way. Your example demonstrates that in some cases efficient execution of goal [x] reveals that that goal was poorly described and we really wanted goal [y].

Hmmm, my polite response to that is, give me a fucking break. What Tripp is really pointing out, and what you are either ignoring or forgetting, is that not everything has a value that can be measured in money. Mr Market is very good at allocating resources when you can reduce everything down to the single dimension of money.

But throw other values in there (what? There are no other values? Well, that's Capitalism for you) and you are left floundering.

Where the Right has gone berserk is in its insistence that we reduce all calculation to economic ones, and then everything will work out. Not only can't it be done, but to the extent that you could theorize that it could, you wouldn't want to live in such a place.

Posted by: craigie at September 22, 2003 04:53 PM | PERMALINK

Randy Paul: "...the airport is the old Anchorage airport which is used primarily for private and smaller planes."

Merrill Field is one of the busiest (if not the busiest) general aviation airports in the USA. I gather the privatization plan is aimed at smaller fields. How Merrill Field and the Juneau airport ended up on such a list, I don't know. Young's problem is that he hasn't given special attention to other airports that don't belong on the list -- namely, Boeing Field in Seattle.

Posted by: Grumpy at September 22, 2003 05:38 PM | PERMALINK

I may be wrong, and it doesn't actually mean anything in terms of the rights and wrongs of privatisation etc, but wasn't Young making a joke?

Posted by: plebian at September 23, 2003 01:14 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Young did come into office after the incumbent died in a plane crash. It could be fear of karma.

Posted by: Thyro at September 23, 2003 06:10 AM | PERMALINK

Craigie and Aphrael,
Yeah. Exactly how much money is 'building a sense of community' worth? Is it a fixed cost, or a recurring cost? Is it worth 50 bucks the first year, and then 10 bucks a year after that?

And yet, in America, everything is reduced to money. Everything.

Someone is killed by accident. A court determines how much money the life is worth.

A person's reputation is ruined, they sue, and the courts determine how much the reputation is worth.

Someone speeds, endangering others, and we've determined how much money that endangerment is worth, and fine them.

And, if something is not easily reduced to money, we ignore it. We pretend it doesn't matter.

You know that Microsoft commercial where the geek is saying how the new servers help users do this and that, and nobody is interested until he says it will save X money a year? Then they all sit, fascinated?

That commercial works because that is America.

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