2008-10-10 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Do We Really Want The Business Model Running (Or Ruining) Our Public Institutions? Part II: Here He Comes, To Save The Day!
Commentary By Howard Schwach

You all know the old tune.

"Here he comes to save the day!"

Except, this time it's not Mighty Mouse, but Mighty Mayor who will try to save the world.

In his announcement that he would seek to work with the City Council to extend term limits to 12 years from eight years, his entire demeanor was an indicator that he believed that he was the only one who could save New York City from the ravages brought by the Wall Street crew.

He sounded just like another mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who really believed that he was the only person fit to run the city after 9-11.

Giuliani was wrong then, and Bloomberg is wrong now.

In fact, the last thing the city needs is a businessman. It is clear, at least to me, that the business model is such an integral part of the problem that it can never be part of the solution.

There was a story in the Daily News on Wednesday of last week that discussed the possibility of Bloomberg running for a third term only hours before he announced that he would do so.

"The mayor has told people close to him he wants to focus on suppressing crime and keeping the schools under his control, while tackling the economic crisis with the eye of a businessman, not a politician," the article says. "He really thinks - and he is right - that he has a lot to add and a lot of things have been started at the city level that need to be completed." Here he comes to save the day!

Correct me if I'm wrong. Wasn't it the business community and its "profits are all" philosophy that was the genesis of the problem in the first place?

There was an open letter in all of the daily papers on October 2 that pleaded with Bloomberg to seek a third term.

Look at the signatures. They are all business people or people closely aligned with the business community. Of course they want Bloomberg back. He has given them everything they ever wanted.

Bloomberg is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

That's why I generally wince when I hear politicians talk about privatizing public services and public amenities such as bridges, tunnels, toll roads, schools, etc.

It just doesn't work simply because public services are supposed to serve the public no matter what the price, while private enterprise is geared not to service, but to profit.

Remember the profit motive, the principle that led to the present crisis, where business people - not educators or police or firefighters or garbage collectors - screwed the pooch by going all out to prove that "greed is good."

It isn't, especially not when it comes to public services.

When my family and I travel to Virginia to visit family, we take a private toll road that runs from Washington, D.C. to Dulles Airport on the outskirts of Virginia.

The road is straight and well-maintained, but it is much more expensive than the state road that parallels it and its toll booths are not open 24 hours a day.

In fact, if you don't have a special prepaid toll card or a major credit card, you'd better forget about using the road after dark, because there is no way to pay the freight, and you'll be stranded at the unmanned toll booth. That's what privatization means - cost effective is king and public services are not meant to be cost-effective, but to serve.

Can you imagine the business world taking over the fire department?

Hey, sorry, but we've been spending too much for gas, so we had to take some of our trucks out of service to cut down on the costs. Hope your house doesn't burn down, but it's just not cost effective to put our trucks on the road this week.

Think that's far-fetched? Perhaps, but I think it might well happen one day if our businessman mayor has his way.

He has already inundated the city budget with hundreds of consultants, who are given tasks that they have no expertise to complete, at the same time that city workers sit with little to do despite the fact that they have been doing the jobs for which the consultants are being paid.

Makes no sense, but that's what business does best - it brings in highpriced consultants who have no idea what they are doing, but make lots of money doing it.

Witness the Department of Education's move in bringing in people from England and Ireland to rate the city's schools, paying a premium for the consultants, their air fare and paying for a place for them to live while they are in the city, at the same time that hundreds of retired principals are available to do the job much cheaper.

Does that make sense? It makes sense to our businessman mayor, who apparently believes that the people hired to work in city agencies do not know as much about the job as outsiders who have never done it.

Sound familiar?

Think Wall Street.

Think of all those out-of-town MBA's with little knowledge or expertise, but a nose for the profit that can be made by screwing the public.

Think Enron. Think Goldman Sachs. Think AIG.

Now you've got it.

Here he comes to save the day. It's not your day he's going to save, but a world totally involved in business and the profit motive, where only the bottom line exists and nobody in New York City knows what is going on except for him, his advisors and his consultants.

Now, he wants four more years.

Sure. Show disdain for the voters and love for business, and give him four more years of the same.

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