Kip’s Law Sighting: Trash Collection Edition
One of my earliest blog-buddies, Kip Esquire, used to have a running feature called “Kip’s Law Sighting.” Kip’s Law is simply described as: “Every advocate of central planning always — always — envisions himself as the central planner.”
I always found this to be a pretty succinct description of the big problem with nanny-statism and the like: it is rarely much more than simply the use of the state to impose one’s personal preferences on others. Today brings us one of the more transparent examples of Kip’s Law in practice.
Over at Balloon Juice, E.D. put together an argument (upon which he follows up here) essentially trying to explain why some folks in an Arizona community are upset that their municipality is switching from basically a free market approach to trash collection to an approach where exclusive trash collection rights are sold to one high bidder. At the core of E.D.’s point is that the switch amounts to a government-granted monopoly on trash collection and that the ability to choose one’s trash collection provider is in and of itself an entirely legitimate value that cannot simply be shunted away on grounds of alleged increases in efficiency.
E.D.’s original post seems to have immediately stirred up a surprising amount of controversy in the left-o-sphere, both amongst the Balloon Juice commentariat and amongst some prominent lefty bloggers. Amongst those going after E.D. is the Great Blue Satan himself, Atrios, who writes:
There are good and rather obvious reasons for having municipal or single contract residential trash collection which I really don’t see being outweighed in any way by the free market fairy. There are huge potential externalities to both trash and trash collection. I don’t want multiple trash collection days on my street. I don’t want to increase the number of trash collection vehicles on my street. They’re noisy and they block traffic. I don’t want people to fail to pay their trash collection bill and dumb their trash elsewhere. It’s also impossible to figure out how service duplication would in any way reduce costs. It’s obviously more efficient to have one truck serving a given neighborhood.
A more perfect example of Kip’s Law I cannot imagine than this paragraph above. Atrios’ personal “wants” – not his needs – are deemed to take priority, as a matter of good public policy, over the wants (and, possibly, needs) of others, regardless of whether Atrios actually resides in the jurisdiction in question. His “wants” are deemed to be universal, and “efficiency” the only other valid metric by which a policy may be appropriately evaluated.
Atrios’ argument would perhaps be reasonable if the issue at hand was one of debating the merits of a federal policy on trash collection, but we are not. Instead, the question is whether a particular group of people in a particular community to which Atrios does not belong might rightly feel aggrieved by a decision to provide a government-granted monopoly in trash collection when the status quo ante was an ability to choose one’s own service provider. Atrios’ “wants” simply are not relevant to the question of how this particular community desires to see its trash collection handled.
Indeed, the self-aggrandizement inherent in Atrios’ arguments is easily made clear by my own, extraordinarily common, experience with trash collection. You see, despite living in a deep blue state, I live in one of those backwards areas that seemingly disagrees with Atrios’ suggestion that “there are good and rather obvious reasons having municipal or single contract residential trash collection [isn’t] outweighed in any way by the free market fairy.”
My particular neighborhood is relatively small, perhaps a few dozen homes, and extraordinarily quiet, but nonetheless we have multiple trash service providers. These providers do not pick up on the same days, and I believe at least one even picks up on multiple days. And guess what? I barely even notice the noise caused by trash collectors other than my own. Never have I felt even the slightest bit of stress from occasionally having to drive around someone else’s trash collector.
Amazingly, it would seem my neighbors feel the same way, as not once has a single one of my neighbors complained to me about all the traffic and noise from garbage trucks in our otherwise entirely serene and quiet neighborhood. And, since it’s a small neighborhood, if any number of folks felt such a problem did exist, it would be extraordinarily easy for them to collaborate and agree to all use the same trash collection service. Indeed, we even have a homeowners association that could easily mandate we all use the same trash collection service. Yet not once has anyone approached me about collaborating so the neighborhood utilizes but one trash service, much less to my knowledge so much as proposed an HOA resolution requiring we all use the same service.
So, in my neighborhood at least, it would seem that the supposed “huge potential externalities” that Atrios bemoans either haven’t materialized or are quite far from being “huge.”
Meanwhile, allegedly tiny benefits of the “free market fairy” in trash collection seem to be quite large indeed. A friend of mine a few towns away lives in a marginally larger and more densely populated neighborhood, but his town contracts out its trash service. My friend has regularly bemoaned to me the lack of decent service that leads to trash service being inconsistent at best, and that he has no real ability to change to another service due to the way his service is contracted out. Meanwhile, I’ve never once had a problem with uncollected trash or inconsistent service.
That’s not to say that everyone, everywhere should favor the free market approach to trash collection. It is, however, to say that what Atrios “wants” isn’t necessarily what everyone else “wants” in any meaningful way and that his “wants” are not entitled to any special preference over my “wants,” particularly when he and I -and the citizens of this particular town – live in different jurisdictions.
So, raise a glass to Kip and repeat after me: “Every advocate of central planning always — always — envisions himself as the central planner.”