Monday, 25 April 2011

The Benton Harbor/Catherine Ferguson School Michigan Shuffle

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Rachael Maddow has been doing a series of pieces on Michigan's move away from democracy in the last week or two. The employment of 'Emergency Financial Managers' for cities in dire financial straights, kicking out the locally elected officials and being parachuted in by the Governor, is a disturbing happening.

The idea is that if a city or a county is failing then the governor simply appoints someone to take over the running of that city or county. Someone who is not concerned with the popularity of their measures, but only with the secure financial future of the city/county.

And that all sounds fairly straight forward, as a way of circumventing the unfortunate reality that sometimes rulers must do unpopular things or face ruin, but if they do unpopular things in a democracy then they will simply be voted out.

Most intellectuals will agree that a benign dictatorship is the ideal form of government: a supreme ruler, unconcerned with popularity, who has the best interests of his/her populace at heart. One problem with this is that the populace has no way of knowing whether their dictator is going to be truly benign or wise before they are installed into power.

As they say: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It's a question of prayer whether you get a good one, or a Hitler/Mussolini/Franco/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot/Idi Amin/Pinochet/Chauchesku (that's just the 20th century), which is something Maddow references here.

Giving business people their own little fiefdoms within a capitalist framework will lead to self-interest being served before the common good. In a democracy, self-interest is served by serving the common good, so the circle of motivations is complete.

Simply telling a businessman (as these Emergency Financial Managers all are) that they have a city to make profitable is madness. In business you can lay off workers and restructure departments, but in a city you are stuck with the same population and you cannot just rebuild a city without massive, and I mean massive, investment.

There are fragmentary similarities between ruling a city and running a business, but they are not enough to justify the equivalence that is drawn by the Emergency Financial Managers Law.

And then there is what one defines as an 'emergency'. One person's emergency is another's off-year. Who decides what is an emergency? The Governor. Emergency can basically mean that the governor doesn't like your mayor's tie that morning. The whole thing is far too subjective, far too open to abuse and corruption.

Look at Maddow's report on Benton Harbor:

Abuse? Possibly. Corruption? Oh, yes.

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