by Don Washington on 2012/09/02
A functioning, fair and just society for the majority of people has a minimum price and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his campaign investors are not interested in paying it. They are creating a leaner, meaner city at a time when people are so lean they are see through and becoming so mean that life itself is becoming desperate the cheap. It is the philosophy of a balance sheet not a society and it defines a philosophy that is not fit for mammals with functioning thumbs.
At the core of Mayor Emanuel’s philosophy, because it has no heart, is a simple set of concepts. Human rights are tied to property rights. So it just goes to follow that markets are the best expressions of democratic forces and are the most fair and efficient distributors of private and public goods. If you put resources into the hands of organized money it will create positive opportunities. That’s the plan and you will note in this description of the world there is nothing that talks about providing education, public safety, public health, infrastructure or any service to any person in need. Need will be met by markets and charity. Government's role is to remove restraints from markets and market-makers and the rest will take care of itself... of course it won't and this cyncial set of beliefs has a name... neo-liberalism.
I think we can safely say that Chicago is not going the way that the “convential wisdom” of the combined media of Chicago thought it would be going two years into the Emanuel administration. I remember a media person I truly respect, who has a recurring column here in this city, telling me that: “Mayor Emanuel has a chance to do this run a city thing right with the schools, the budget and jobs.” I believe that he believed that and then Mayor Emanuel rode into to town with a Civic Federation, Reason Foundation, Neo-liberal playbook, that is not working in New York City and hasn’t worked anywhere else in the world and it isn’t working here for most Chicagoans. I don’t know if he still believes that but it appears that the Mayor is not getting the “city thing” right.
Unless one assumes that most Chicagoans want expanding community violence, a full-blown teacher’s strike, shrinking of city services, a militarized and negatively incentivized police force; dropping bond rates and a rush of corporate privatizers to feast on what remains of the city’s public budgets one has to think the city is not working correctly. You might not remember the cornucopia of stories that followed Rahm Emanuel into office I am still trying to forget them but the curse of context will not let me go. The “conventional wisdom” was and remains pretty sure that public policy is about numbers… running the city like a business. This means cutting budgets and finding efficiencies to make provide services for customers instead of marshaling resources to meet the needs of citizens. The conventional wisdom says that government is full of waste, fraud and corruption and that bloated public unions, with their ridiculous pensions, costly worker protections and exorbitant wages are an obstacle to be overcome if not eliminated. The conventional wisdom also demands that government’s job is to make the city attractive to corporations. If that sounds terrifyingly like freeing up markets and market makers and everything else will take care of itself... that's because that's exactly what it is.
What is missing from this equation is what government actually does every day… it provides services for people. So we’ve spent two years having “public policy debates” that have the depth of a pair of kindergarten kids fighting over a blanket or how many angels can dance on the head of pin. As a result services are not getting to people with predictable results. A discussion of education policy which should start with adequate resources and best practices has been reduced to crushing the union and expanding the school day. The result, a possible teacher’s strike, the continued expansion of ineffective charter schools and CPS hemorrhaging senior staffers at what would be an alarming rate if the Mayor was interested in delivering public policy.
Our discussion of economic development that should be about sustainable development, job creation not job transference, expanding the tax base, defending homes and creating powerful incentives for small and mid-sized businesses our Mayor has been focused on transferring high-end corporate jobs to Chicago, shrinking the corporate tax base by fighting for statewide tax breaks and creating tax incentives and breaks right here in Chicago to lure more corporate giants here. For example the massive tax breaks adding up to potentially, nearly a trillion dollars over the next decade for CME Group, Motorola and Sears. He’s used TIF funds to help Marriott Hotel build a hotel down in Hyde Park.
It’s been big money, for big corporations, whose boards and major shareholders he knows directly and meets with regularly. He’s been defiant about sharing information about how he sets the city’s economic destiny and certain that he knows what he’s doing. The results have not been surprising. We are treated to stories about the arrival of jobs while the city’s bond rating drops and social services are cut down past the bone. (Admittedly no one with a brain in their head should trust anything Moody’s, S&P or Fitch says about anything but even using conventional measures this is not working.
A public safety discussion which should start with addressing the roots of crime, poverty and a lack of trusting relationships between law enforcement and community was reduced to did Emanuel get 1,000 new officers on the beat, can we ever meet the 2,000 officer shortfall and nary a mention of the absolute failure of our nearly privatized 911 system and our stats driven policing that depends on the most aggressive officers we can put on the streets. The results have been an explosive expansion in the numbers of shootings and levels of violence and reminder that police do not stop crime they respond to it. Stable communities stop crime and Mayor Emanuel is about driving those people out of the city not providing them with services and public policy that delivers those services within the city.
At this point you may have absorbed the lesson that public education and safety are not about numbers they are about philosophy and capacity. In short, your philosophy dictates who you deliver public services to and the manner in which they are delivered which in turn creates the capacity or scope of those services. If you have the wrong philosophy you will never create a public policy that has the capacity to meet the needs of public.
To get a sense of why “conventional wisdom” is so clearly broken understand that for those who are setting that wisdom Access Living and the Civic Federation are both “watchdog organizations” interested in the municipal best practices. If we are lucky this is just a measure of how ignorant Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah is but we are not that lucky. What they both are is advocacy groups who want money spent or not spent certain ways. Access Living would like public dollars to be spent to help citizens with disabilities participate more fully in a society that their efforts make possible or by being citizens they should have access to. Hence the name, Access Living, follow the logic on this.
The oxymoronically named Civic Federation is an advocate for privatization of public services, the elimination of unions and the expansion of corporate power. To put it another way Access Living thinks that the economy serves the needs of a civil society. The Civic Federation thinks that civil society must serve the needs of those who own the economy. A conventional wisdom that sees them as similar doesn’t have the capacity to reason its way out of a very small closet. We would know those people as almost every reporter working in our little city.
To be fair to Rahm Emanuel he is doing exactly what he said he would do. He’s cutting budgets and going after unions in every way one can imagine while enticing corporate powers to the city by going to bat for them downstate to the tune of tax breaks equaling nearly a trillion dollars over the next decade; in the city by providing, millions TIF funds and a newfangled Infrastructure Bank along with a powerful push for privatization and killing our corporate head tax and even out of state where he’s defending them against investigation in places like Minnesota.
He’s cutting city services to neighborhoods, privatizing/outsourcing services as fast as he can from expanding charter schools to bringing in Catholic Charities to administer homeless services. He’s getting salaries and pensions off the city’s books and transferring funds into the pockets of private providers and his campaign investors, who supposedly will find efficient ways to deliver services while making a profit. He’s not worried about anyone that he has to fire because as he said the City of Chicago is not a jobs program.
I find it odd that no one asks what happens if the City of Chicago becomes a net job destroying machine, especially since in bad economic times the government is typically the employer of first, last and only resort when private companies will not or cannot hire. This isn’t blasphemy it’s boring, basic economics from the last century and just like gravity does stop functioning because of new political realities. No society can escape the economic reality that people without money can’t spend it and if spending stops in an economy the economy stops working.
Right now Chicago is not working. When I read the Sun-Times headline about the oncoming teacher’s strike: “How It Came to This”; I know it came to this because the Mayor, his campaign investors and the conventional common wisdom see destroying unions as an essential ingredient of the recipe to a better way to run the city and the world. The Mayor is not “getting the city thing right” because a city is ultimately about how dollars will be used to meet the needs of people not how people will be bent to the will of those with dollars.