Who Should Collect the Garbage?

Just recently a part of Toronto had its garbage collecting services changed from the in-house government run and operated to a collection of different privately owned companies. There were complaints on the first few days of garbage not being collected on time, items missed, and a few other random issues which seems hardly surprising given the scale of the operation. It’s silly to base an argument on one data point- akin to saying that Global Warming doesn’t exist because it’s been a cold summer- analysis on how much better or worse things are will have to wait for time to deliver the data.

What should and shouldn’t be a government service? Sectors that already have private companies working in them and are not a natural monopoly (many different companies can coexist providing for competition) are the easiest to argue for conversion to the private sphere. The argument that services will not have the same level of quality can be addressed by setting metrics that all private companies must adhere to that would be exactly the same as with public management. As long as there are more than one service providers then it will always be easy to terminate a contract when these rules have been broken and bring in another.

The most contentious item in the debate revolves around wages and benefits and how the switch to privatization will lower them both. I see this as a part of the much larger issue of increased income disparity and loss of job security that have plagued Canada and other developed nations since the 1970’s. In 2011 (according to Stats Can) the rate of unionization in the public sector was just over 71% while only 16% in the private one. It is therefore very difficult to make an argument that the tax paying members of the private sector must pay part of their wages to keep the other part of the workforce in better conditions, making the debate “us against them.” If the city is keeping these jobs in the public sphere because it feels that the market rates of pay are too low then what is stopping it from running even more services and expanding to other areas that it currently doesn’t cover? I don’t see how this would ever be politically feasible within the current private and public disparity and so the issue of wages needs to be handled on a much broader level.

Fundamentally this is about how much people get paid for doing a job and if it should be set by supply and demand (number of jobs available and number of people able to do them) or with some other mechanism. Or, the government can change the game by instituting a form of guaranteed income paid for by taxing profits which has the possibility of making the switch from public to private a non issue in terms of wages.

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Off the Island

Recently Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford made some confusing remarks about what he wanted to see done in the wake of multiple shootings in the city. While the transcript shows how uninformed he is about laws and the constitution it is easy to understand what he wants to say:

ll I’m saying is, if you’re caught with a gun and convicted of a gun crime, I want you out of this city.

I had just finished reading a fascinating article in the magazine Maisonneuve called “Anatomy of an Occupation” which detailed the brief history of the Occupy movement in Toronto and the small settlement that set itself up in the fall of 2011. I haven’t checked but I’m sure that members of that group would find lots of issues in the article, in particular its singular focus on individual dramatic conflicts between members (reminds me of interviews with the surviving members of the Doors that said while the movie was an actuate portrayal of the band it missed completely the fun nature that Jim Morrison had most of the time) at the expensive of anything else, but what was printed is still instructive for my point. There were several occasions in which members were either too unstable or too extreme and had to be kicked out of the park and out of the group. While this seems perfectly reasonable and I’m sure was done in order to allow the movement to continue working, there was always an element of how this was an attempt at a new kind of society which makes the expulsions much more interesting.

While I’m not trying to equate the two situations, they are similar in their need to deal with people that refuse to fit in and are a physical danger to the rest of the members in the group. There is nothing new about this issue, philosophers such as Nozick have tried to fit solutions into their theories about these “independents” while groups such as the Hell’s Angels simply embraced their status as one percenters who will never fit in. The problem is that we do not have the option of simply excluding troublemakers from our society anymore. It’s not an option to send people to Australia- if Rob Ford wants people out of Toronto then where does he propose that they be moved to? Why would any other town want people who are potentially dangerous? Unless the ideas of work gangs in the north are considered (see Stalin gulags) then the logical end game of this line of thinking is to put people away in jail for life.