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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Belief Versus Fact

Returning to those NSWMA talking points...  We are told:

Many residents believe the competitive market will provide the best value (price and service) for any service they need.

Many residents have expressed their lack of confidence in government to provide long-term value (price and service).

Any number of people believing something does not make it true. I think public policy should be based on the most accurate available information, not mistaken beliefs, however many people might hold them.

No city has organized trash collection since the early 1990s. I think it's fair to say that every city in Minnesota that has organized collection is well into the “long-term” horizon. Yet rather than providing us with any evidence that would suggest service problems or high prices demonstrating a lack of long-term value in those many communities, the NSWMA is reduced to appealing to the unfounded beliefs of “many residents” as a reason to oppose organization.

In every study I've encountered so far, cities with organized collection have, over the long term, enjoyed comparable or superior service and lower prices compared to open hauling systems like Maplewood.

In a recent e-mail exchange with me, one resident cited a city where she believed the problems were an example of why not to have organized collection.  So I looked into it, and it's actually a city with open collection, just like Maplewood.  What has apparently happened is that the number of licensed haulers is down to only two or three.  Whether those haulers built their market share by competition, buying out rivals, or influencing the city's licensing process in some way to keep newcomers out, I can't tell you.  The result, from what this woman told me, is not to pass on any of the savings from efficiency with their customers, but to charge customers in this city even higher prices than the same haulers do in adjacent communities.  To me, this is a perfect illustration of the illusion of market freedom in the current system, and the motivation of some haulers in opposing change.  The history of trash hauler consolidation and vertical integration over the past two decades suggests we'll see more of this as time goes on.

Finally, as long as we're talking about what “many residents believe,” we might also acknowledge the many residents who have a lack of confidence in corporations to properly account for long-term costs as opposed to short-term profits, especially when they have a long history of successfully dumping those costs on taxpayers and the public at large long after the fact.  Unlike the beliefs cited by NSWMA, this one seems to have some awfully good trash-industry-specific data to support it (see, for example, closed landfill clean-up costs).

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