Christie and Privatization

MC_062910christie2 The husky governor in our fine state of New Jersey is proposing massive privatization programs for many state services. According to the Bergen Record:

State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths
could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report
on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms
would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay
for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health
care and run education programs behind prison walls.

All
told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a
year by delivering an array of services through private hands.

I know that liberals are supposed to be against all forms of privatization, but I just can't get too worked up about this. If you've ever been to the DMV offices in Paramus, you'll know that a trained monkey could do it better than those guys.

When we first moved to New Jersey, I wrote a blog post about my experiences there.

Later this afternoon, I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles,
because my license expires tomorrow. DMV, the waiting room for hell.
All in shades of taupe and sea green, designed to put the throngs of
hopeful drivers into a state of stupor. I came with a satchel of
paperwork with my name, date of birth, and new address. One hour later,
a woman with purple finger nails and red pants came out of an inner
room and shouted in 152, 153, 154 and 155. 155 — that's me. It seems
that number shouting was this woman's entire responsibility. Something
that a nice sign could have accomplished. Anyhow, the license thing
finally happened. One thing checked off the list.

It's worth reading the comment sections in the Bergen Record, just for the nasty nicknames for Christie – Governor Lard Lad and Governor Crispy. Sue me, I'm a child!

For the record, he's the one that you should be watching, not Palin. Also, Bobby Boy Jindal is slowly resuscitating his national image.

32 thoughts on “Christie and Privatization

  1. state employees would pay for parking
    They don’t have to pay for parking!! No wonder NJ went broke so much quicker than most other states.
    In PA, they did privatize many of the DMV functions, but I had to deal with them when I first moved here. I think Comcast is paying the DMV so it can look less than evil by comparison.

  2. Obviously privatization has benefits in some cases. But where’s the competition? Will different toll lanes be operated by different companies? It feels like most privatization ends in a monopsony situation, where there is no competition to spur improved service or lower cost.
    Here in Washington state, the typical DMV line lasts 45 minutes even at peak time. There are no extraneous employees in the office. Good public services are a function of good government; you need a governor who’s elected on a platform of making the DMV suck less. If union work rules are partially to blame for DMV suckage, then my guess is that things will get better … for a brief period of time.

  3. I’ve noticed that about the DMV in Washington State, polite, fairly efficient, nothing much to complain about. But, I’ve never been sure whether it’s about good government or the people or local effects. In WA, there’s a surface politeness that prevents some of the ugliness that happens (say in NY, or DC) in interacting with the DMV. And, the less stressed the system is (fewer poor people, fewer people who aren’t prepared, fewer people period), the less likely the experience is to be bad.
    So, I’ve never figured out why things are better here, and am wary of attributing it to good government (though I might be wrong, which would be lovely, ’cause then DMV’s could be fixed everywhere).

  4. I’m a quite conservative and have loved every clip of Christie I have seen. I grew up in PA and the one part of Christie’s privatization proposals that I don’t like on a sentimental level is the privatizing of state parks. I just want state parks to retain their drab and rustic appearances. I worry that privatizing them will lead to flashier concession stands and crap like that.

  5. “I just want state parks to retain their drab and rustic appearances.”
    That’s a weird rationale.
    Me, I want state parks to remain under the ownership of the state because I believe in truly public lands. Doesn’t anyone believe in public lands and public spaces any more?

  6. Me! Me! I believe in public lands and public spaces. I’m not convinced that providing access to public lands is best done by rangers who are on a civil service ladder and have full-year jobs and who have to buy their paper clips through the state counterpart of the GSA is the best way to do it.
    There’s an interesting, generally careful, dyspeptic blog by a libertarian named Warren Meyer who is in the business of running state park concessions and who is excited to see this idea from Christie: http://www.coyoteblog.com/ – Wendy you might give it a read and see if it sells you on the idea that your goals can be met more cheaply. One thing he has done in campgrounds he runs for state parks in the West is to invite RV couples with their Winnebagos to be resident managers in some campgrounds. They have fun, the campground gets watched over, the cost is lower.
    Skittering even further away from the original topic – the general groundswell among the Great And The Good is that Social Security retirement age has to go up. I think this is just fine for the GATG with their office jobs, but not so fine for a guy with arthritis who is gutting it out til 62 on an assembly line and hurting every day. And the idea that you could wind down with a few years watching benignly over a campground in Arizona seems good to me.

  7. Dave, you have to understand that any line like “This is from Reason’s [insert name of Reason writer]” is a total turnoff for me.
    Galbraith on the financial crisis here.

  8. “One thing he has done in campgrounds he runs for state parks in the West is to invite RV couples with their Winnebagos to be resident managers in some campgrounds. They have fun, the campground gets watched over, the cost is lower.”
    There’s some similar arrangement in the National Parks that’s been mentioned here before.

  9. Doesn’t anyone believe in public lands and public spaces any more?
    I do. Then again, I’m working class—I believe a healthy society needs a healthy commons. But part of the appeal of privatization is getting rid of the commons. Placing a price tag on the commons so pesky folks like me and my 10-year-old daughter aren’t polluting the atmosphere for the wealthy (excuse me, “middle class”).
    It’s not that folks don’t want public space anymore. They just want to define who gets to be considered members of “the public”. They want to set admission prices to keep the peons away, but still want access to the tax dollars those peons provide (thus keeping their own costs down).
    As for having mom and pop “watch” the parks…you gotta be kidding me. Here’s the qualifications to be a park ranger in New Jersey (B.A., plus law enforcement experience). Here’s a list of currently posted park ranger jobs throughout the U.S. Arizona rangers are making $10 a hour. There’s a New Jersey job listed for $23 an hour. That’s not much, people. The fat in the budget isn’t here. Why such resentment towards working class people earning a living wage? Why isn’t the first move to cut the salaries of those making over six figures?

  10. At least from visits back to Washington State, my impression is that the state parks have always been a bit undermanned on the ground.
    Among the national parks, I’m most familiar with the Olympic National Park in Washington. (Get out there, by the way, people–it’s exquisite this time of year and I have a lot of tourist industry relatives out there to support.) My impression is that after the much ballyhooed CCC trail building of the Great Depression (which one side of my family did very well from), it’s been very hard for the Park to maintain all those hundreds of miles of very ambitious back country trails, and they really haven’t managed. Your average tourist just does a low country nature hike, so they don’t notice.
    I get the aesthetic and practical concerns about concessions, but when a park really is in the middle of nowhere, not having food and drink is inhumane and makes the park less accessible. I’m thinking of a National Park visitor center that is 12 miles from the nearest hot food (and about 24 miles from the nearest town of any size), and which doesn’t have so much as a vending machine on site.

  11. I think I got the distance wrong. It’s actually more like 29 miles from the visitor center to the nearest real town.

  12. You know, currently Xanterra runs the reservations systems for lodging and campgrounds in Yellowstone, and the GT Lodge Company runs it for GNTP, so it’s not like there is no privatization.
    But seriously, that’s not where the money is going. All we have to do to halve the deficit is let the Bush tax cuts expire. Would it be so bad to go back to taxes at the level of 1999/2000?

  13. “But seriously, that’s not where the money is going. All we have to do to halve the deficit is let the Bush tax cuts expire. Would it be so bad to go back to taxes at the level of 1999/2000?”
    If the tax cuts are allowed to expire, we’re going to have a real life economic experiment. My predictions for the results of the experiment are:
    1. The tax hike won’t have the desired effect on the deficit (since the economy won’t be throwing off the expected amount of revenue).
    2. 11% national unemployment, here we come.

  14. While I have no problem with proposals to privatize disastrous bureaucracies like DMV or social security office, I would really hate for the parks department to go to private hands. Yes, there’s the danger of Disnificaition of the national parks services and the lost of the funky WPA vibe of the parks department. But the parks department works really well. We go to a lot of public parks and I can’t think of any problems anywhere. If it ain’t broke…

  15. Wendy,
    I remember it a bit differently–the economy was tanking, so we had tax cuts.
    If it is a bad idea to slash federal spending during a recession (because it will put thouands of people out of work and decrease the amount of money sloshing about in the economy), it must be equally true that sucking money out of the private sector during a recession (which is essentially the same thing) is a bad idea. Lord Keynes is not my favorite person, but if I’m not mistaken, he would not at all approve of the combination of high spending and high taxation during a recession. It’s like running a humidifier and a dehumidifier at the same time–it sucks up a lot of energy, and you accomplish nothing. On the other hand, I don’t think Keynes (“In the long run we’re all dead”) probably has much wisdom to share on the problem of what to do when dealing with a severe recession, a looming demographic tsunami, and federal and local governments that already spend oceans of money in good times. Aggregate demand (or whatever you call it) ought to be nicely smoothed out and safe from recessionary ripples with that steady surge of federal money flowing through the economy. But somehow it’s not. Odd, that.
    What to do? I don’t know, but I note that it took 20+ years for the US economy to recover from the Great Depression, and that with the advantage of bombed-out and starved economic rivals and a young working population.

  16. Why can’t we go back to the same tax structure as in the 90s?
    We could (mostly as the higher earners have taken a hit with the recession and the tax revenue isn’t as good), but we’d have to cut spending back to what it was in the 90s. This would mean no Medicare Schedule D, no stimulus, no bailout, no wars and several other federal cuts. It’s even worse at the local level as state governments, grew so fast during those years, that even without the crash, we would hit some kind of a crunch. It is going to get much uglier before it gets better.

  17. “I remember it a bit differently–the economy was tanking, so we had tax cuts.”
    And that worked so well.
    When a country needs revenue, they raise taxes. If the country wanted a war, they should have raised taxes instead of cutting them. That was the boneheaded move.

  18. “And that worked so well.”
    That (along with the US’s disappointing economic performance after the Obama 2009 stimulus) suggests that stimulus, whether in the form of tax cuts or spending, is not effective. So, to sum up:
    1. We have limited bullets to shoot the werewolf (limited ability to borrow and stimulate).
    2. It doesn’t matter, because the bullets won’t work. (Stimulus doesn’t seem to work, at least under the conditions of an government with high fixed expenses in a large, highly-developed country.)
    “If the country wanted a war, they should have raised taxes instead of cutting them. That was the boneheaded move.”
    Social Security and Medicare would have been a problem no matter what, and the US doesn’t spend nearly as high a percentage of GDP on the military as it used to. It’s really hard to look at the 1940- GDP chart and exploding SS and Medicare costs and think that military spending is the problem. Plus (if against all of the above) we still like stimulus, military spending is beautifully stimulating. You build something, you blow it up, you build it again. Bastiat weeps, but it’s impeccably Keynesian.

  19. (Stimulus doesn’t seem to work, at least under the conditions of an government with high fixed expenses in a large, highly-developed country.)
    My guess is that stimulus isn’t working because the process of getting political support for the stimulus (i.e. going on TV and pointing out how bad things are, economically speaking) cuts private spending by more than the stimulus increases public spending. Like most things, stimulus works best when you don’t need it that badly.

  20. “My guess is that stimulus isn’t working because the process of getting political support for the stimulus (i.e. going on TV and pointing out how bad things are, economically speaking) cuts private spending by more than the stimulus increases public spending. Like most things, stimulus works best when you don’t need it that badly.”
    I remember, during Bush II’s stimulus a couple of years back, our family got an $1800 stimulus check. We immediately paid off our car loan and have since lived happily ever after. That was not at all what they wanted us to do with it. However, in our defense as patriotic citizens, paying off the car early did free up that chunk of our income and enable us to buy other stuff.
    By the way, what is wrong with Krugman? Why does he keep preaching a larger stimulus?
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/lincoln-mcclellan-and-stimulus/
    “There’s now a lot of talk about the fact that U.S. corporations are sitting on a lot of cash, but not spending it. I don’t find that particularly puzzling: with huge excess capacity, why invest in building even more capacity. But almost everyone seems to agree that if we could somehow get businesses to spend some of that cash, it would create jobs.
    “Which then raises the question: how can you believe that, and not also believe that if the U.S. government were to borrow some of the cash corporations aren’t spending, and spend it on, say, public works, this would also create jobs? (Brad DeLong has tried to make this argument repeatedly).”
    This line makes my head hurt.
    1. If corporations have money that will help them keep paying thousands of people even when the economy is down, that’s fantastic. If only California were in the same position.
    2. Corporations can leave the US if they are given a hard enough shove. The US is not the only game in town.
    3. At what point do we decide that the stimulus doesn’t work? What stimulus would be gargantuan and confiscatory enough that if it had no effect, Krugman would admit defeat? Krugman’s like an old-time doctor whose only prescription is more blood-letting.

  21. “If the country wanted a war, they should have raised taxes instead of cutting them.”
    I recall a beautiful fall day in New York City, when no one in America “wanted” a war, and by the end of day 3000 people were dead. I seem to be the only person who remembers that day.

  22. y81, that’s a nasty comment. You do not get to pretend that no one here remembers 9/11. You don’t own 9/11 because you supported every crappy thing Bush did in the name of 9/11. 9/11 happened to everyone in America, not just those who wave a flag and pretend to be the “real” patriots.

  23. There’s now a lot of talk about the fact that U.S. corporations are sitting on a lot of cash, but not spending it.
    If corporations includes banks, I wonder how much of it is being held against the expected defaults which are coming.

  24. “If corporations includes banks, I wonder how much of it is being held against the expected defaults which are coming.”
    Good point. Before you mentioned that, I was having a hard time figuring out which US corporations are swimming in cash Scrooge McDuck style.
    By the way, I have a public service announcement. If somebody you love is invited to be an opinion writer for the NYT, make them say no! The NYT opinion pages are as full of the dried out shells of formerly talented people as Shelob’s lair was full of desiccated orcs. Stay away!

  25. Shelob’s lair was full of desiccated orcs
    That’s why Lugbúrz says we need to moisturize every day. Its the dry mountain air that causes the problem.

  26. Anybody seen Uglúk lately? He was supposed to bring me a, umm, package and I haven’t heard from him in two days.

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