“Free Markets”

“Free Markets”

Naturally I have my own biases so this next post may be a complete shmear of it but WOW. I was looking up the Minneapolis bridge collapse for a future post and I stumbled upon (not by firefox plug-in just the regular old googles) a random blog entry. The entry posits that government agencies do not suffer consequence from catastrophic disasters and therefore have no incentive to monitor and correct problems and seeing as the engineers are more likely to give kickbacks to government officials to win more contracts the government should be removed from the equation and the “free market” will provide for all. In the interest of full disclosure I need to say that first I’m an engineer, not only that I work for a government agency in charge of maintaining infrastructure. That being said judge my bias accordingly but here are my observations. The author of this post and the comments below indicate that it is probably a very libertarian blog so I know that they are down on big government, but even this seems laughable.

First off the notion that Governments do not have incentive to fix these problems is simply wrong. Taking it from a purely economic stand point, the government gathers a majority of its financial resources from the businesses that operate within them. Business will maintain operations in a location as long as it is cost effective to do so; however the negative impact of not having the infrastructure to get your workers to and from work is obvious. It is the equivalent of saying a landlord has no incentive to supply water to their tenant. I can understand that this conclusion may be difficult to accept so I’ll continue. In cases like this, government officials always get fired, precisely BECAUSE it is a political issue, and unless dramatic tangible changes are made elected officials do not survive long either. In addition regardless of whether or not you work for a government agency or a private corporation if you’re an engineer and you sign off on anything, you are legally responsible. In addition the author makes the spurious claim that government employees are overpaid. A bold claim considering my salary is at least 25% LOWER than the national average and the percentage increase when you compare it to my cities average salary.

The author also claims that since we do not hear of bridge collapses often we should feel safe about all the other bridges. Now that is a completely understandable argument. If I go to the grocery store to buy a tomato and one of the tomatoes on display is bad it doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Yet that analysis fails to take time into consideration. If the grocery store never changed the tomatoes and I went back a week later and one of the tomatoes was bad then it DOES make sense to wonder if the rest have gone bad as well. America’s infrastructure is several generations old, and it is time to take a long and careful look at it as a lot of it needs to be replaced.

Yet let’s address the “Free Markets” reasoning. We live in a world of multinational corporations, given that the question becomes what binds these corporations to the best interest of this particular nation? In addition the motivation behind corporate action is generally profit, and what is profitable and what is best for the citizenry do not necessarily coincide. If you’re unsure of this ask anyone in a rural terrain how they feel about their “Broadband” internet, better yet call them, oh wait no, most of them don’t have great wireless reception. Government agencies have a relatively high level of transparency allowable by the fact that work done by them is paid for by tax payers. The same rules do not apply to corporations, when things go wrong there is less chance of actually getting to the bottom of it. I’m not a fan of trusting in the benevolence of corporation for whom we the citizenry have no say on who the decision makers are and how they make their decisions.

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