The phrase "company town" is loosely applied to any locale dominated by a single employer. But real company towns – the kind built, managed, and subject to the paternalistic control of private enterprise – have been an important part of American economic history. From Gary, IN (U.S. Steel) to Pullman, IL (now part of Chicago) to Hershey, PA to Alcoa, TN to the hundreds of textile mill towns of the South and coal mining towns throughout Appalachia, municipalities founded without incorporation or elected government are more numerous than many Americans realize. To live in these places meant to depend entirely on the munificence of one's corporate nobleman for the services one usually gets from local government. It usually meant getting paid in company scrip usable that limited one's economic transactions to company-owned banks, stores, and so on. Some company towns, notably Hershey, PA, were considered relatively swell places to live. Most, as in the case of Appalachian coal company towns, were efficient means of brutal exploitation and debt peonage.

Michigan's widely reported 'Financial Martial Law' bill, soon to be signed into law by teabagging mannequin Rick Snyder, is portrayed by leftists as another salvo in the ongoing Republican war against teachers and public sector unions. I find that conclusion overly linear and too simplistic. This legislation – which allows the Governor to declare financial emergencies and appoint individuals or corporations to serve as city managers with the power to dissolve local elected councils and nullify employment contracts for public servants – is the first step in an effort to do away with municipal and local government altogether in favor of quite literally having private enterprises replacing government and contracting out its functions to the lowest bidder. How beautiful it will be: Wackenhut cops and local jails, Waste Management goons collecting trash, utilities sold off to Aqua America and Exelon, tax assessments mailed to homeowners from a financial services boiler room in Bangalore, and municipal employees of all types fired and replaced by temps from Manpower, Inc.

Gives a new and literal meaning to the phrase "company town," doesn't it? And the kicker is that the Governor is empowered to pay the new city managers any amount he sees fit before turning over total control so that they may further profit from a variety of harebrained privatization schemes.

This legislation speaks to the ideas that have kept right-wingers' hearts aflutter since the early Reagan years. It's not removing government from the private sector; it's replacing government with the private sector. For-profit education corporations running the schools. Private military/security outfits as cops. Subscription-only fire protection and ambulance service. City property auctioned off to developers (with zoning laws created ad hoc by unelected city managers; sure, you can bury nuclear waste here!) No pesky citizens, city councils, or local laws to get in the way. Corporate owner-governments that can charge you whatever they're bold enough to charge for services and utilities. And there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Your government will be a board of directors in some office park in Arlington, VA.

What a beautiful vision. It's like watching the Koch brothers masturbate.

41 thoughts on “COMPANY TOWN”

  • Someday, I hope that Thomas Frank becomes such an intellectual icon that I can describe myself as a Frankian, because his diagnosis of the American political pathos is absolutely without peer. In its simplest form, it is:

    Step 1: Republicans get elected running against government

    Step 2: Republicans defund and ruin the ability of government to function

    Step C: Republicans say, "See, we told you government doesn't work!"

    Step 7: Republicans outsource, privatize, and otherwise enrich the corporate assholes that gave them the money to rook the simpletons in the last election.

    Step QXBlorg: Burdened by either underfunding or profit motive, public services fail spectacularly.

    Step H: Repeat!

    These are not in any order, because they can be done in any order.

  • I will never in my lifetime understand why the people of this nation keep electing to office individuals that loudly proclaim that the proper way to proceed is to eliminate the office for which they are running.

  • I'm having some trouble really grasping how the MI legislature can just…do that. Is this just gonna get thrown out by the courts? If not, is there some quirk of the Michigan constitution that makes this feasible, or could any state legislature give the governor power to semi-de-incorporate city governments at will?

  • "…having private enterprises replacing government and contracting out its functions to the lowest bidder."

    The thing that always amazes me about a lot of these government contracts is that they're not to the lowest bidder – they're no-bid contracts to whoever the legislator/executive owes a favor to, or even worse, his own company.

    It would sort of make sense, ideologically, if they were taking bids and trying to get shit done on the cheap (I would still disagree with it) but it seems like that's usually not what happens.

  • Ironically, they have already done a series of movies about this – and they took place in Detroit, no less. Remember the RooboCop series of movies where "Omni Consumer Products" was the primary contractor for the local government of Detroit? It was a right-winger's wet dream. That worked out real well, didn't it?

  • I just read SHG's comment and realize that I'm late to the party. But y'all get the gist of it, right?

  • What's interesting is, for a bunch that talks about less government, they don't mind concentrating a lot of governmental power at the executive level.. And those elections? They promise things they have no intention of ever delivering, and blame it on evil liberals. We're stuck in an exponential bullshit loop, CTRL ALT DLT, please.

  • I would imagine the National League of Cities, MI Local Govt Mgmt Assn. and organizations like that will be suing to block this legislation. I cannot believe this law is constitutional, either on a state level or a national level. I can't believe they can just pass a bill and not be required to change the state constitution….

    On a related note, has anyone read "The Company Town"?

    I have it but haven't had a chance to read it yet….

  • @RandyH:

    For the right wing wet dream taken to its logical conclusion, read Margaret Atwood's "The Year Of The Flood." Chilling how accurately she nails it; the new law of the land is CorpSeCorps = Corporate Security Corps – in which citizens spy on one another, elites live in gated communities where they are constantly spied on, pharmaceutical companies lace their drugs with poison so they can reap big bucks on treatment, etc.

  • In my final paper for a Public Admin class, I just likened the model of service provision resulting from the New Public Management model of governance to – the company store. One major issue I see with NPM is that unlike the private sector where, ostensibly, the customer can change vendors if unhappy, public services are a single source supplier.

    Another flaw I see with NPM is its perspective of public interest as an unnecessary artifact of an obsolete form of governance. In this model, everyone is presumed to be able to serve their self-interest best and the aggregate of all individual self-interests provides the best outcome for all. The public interest is greater than the sum of the individual needs/wants/desires, integrating shared values, community interests and an effort to ensure justice, equity and fair treatment for all participants.

    We are seeing now in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Florida and other states the natural outcome of investing in market-model governance. I only hope it is not too late to reverse course.

  • I had to burn the image from my mind, Koch Brothers masturbating. Thank God my breakfast we well digested.

  • Yeah, you should listen to your daddy.

    "I cannot believe this law is constitutional, either on a state level or a national level."

    Obama care, right?


  • Rick Massimo says:

    Hey Hoosier, you forgot the step where they say they're following the will of the public in doing all this – the REAL public, not the fake public that's showing up at the Capitol every day protesting this.

    bb – um, no. That's isn't the same thing at all. Did you actually have a point, or is this just the reflexive wingnut desperate attempt at creating equivalence and/or changing the subject?

  • @DawnP ironically you've hit on the issue of an article that John wanted Ed to FJM a couple days back. Gov'ts have "monopolies" in certain areas. For this I'm thankful. Imagine if we got rid of the pretence and Haliburton were to be running the military openly?

    There's a good point made at Huffpo (I think) that this ability to break contracts at will, will bring harm to the State's business interests. I'll try to find the link.

    @bb: what are you on about? Has some f-wit jacked your acc't and posting in your name? Your comparison in this case makes no sense, either that or the bow you're drawing is so far over the horizon it's in the next galaxy.

  • @xnyzee never read HuffPo in past, with Breitbart on board won't (not to be rude, but if you find a non HuffPo source please send it along as I am interested).

    The lack of regard NPM has for the public interest as something bigger than aggregated individual interest (with the most affluent wielding most influence) is destroying us. It's interesting to see folks still mired in this mindset comet to power as the more flexible New Public Service philosophy is gaining currency.

    I look at the protesters in these states and see them demanding their right to be a part of the governance process. Walker, Snyder, Scott are applying the very worst aspects of Old Public Administration (top-down hierarchies, rigid control on actions, mechanistic) and New Public Management (public servant entrepreneurs taking risks, external contracting, ignore community interests) and, again, I only hope the popular uprisings are not happening too late to reverse the destruction of our public services and local communities.

  • Government Contracts…
    True, some are "no-bid" (Based on National Security – ie the ones in Iraq & Afghanistan)
    Others are menat to be competitive & yet are not, because Company B calls & asks, "Who is the incumbent?" They hear Company A & decided not to spend their proposal budget to play against "A" & so the field is narrow even in Government Contracting.

    Meanwhile this may warm someones heart in 1938 The Wagner – O'Day Act was passed (Ammended in 1971 Javits – Wagner – O'Day) mandating the purchase of supplies & services from National Industries for the Blind & NISH. Currently there are Secure Mailrooms contracted out to NISH Non-Profits (That have to employ 75% disabled individuals) by IRS, DHS, DOE, DOI, DOT, FBI, USDA & GSA to name several to the tune of $28.2M, creating 811 FTE positions under 179 contracts to 124 Non-Profits. (They shred your tax returns, etc.) These were not no-bid contracts to Haliburton!

    Government Contracting not unlike other entities are judged by the one proverbial rotten apple, while the truely good things like hiring diabled indiviudals under Govenment contracts is ignored completely.

    FYI, if those contracts were not in place, I have a feeling that many of those disabled individuals would be receiving Medicare instead. (& possible getting food stamps or jus tin general being a welfare queen.)

  • I wouldn't count on the courts to do much, and even if an adverse decision should come down, recent history tells us that it will either be ignored or die a death of a million papercuts while it's being stalled. I don't know whether the far-right MotU have made such an effort to get rid of history in this country because it shows how this stuff always works out badly, or because people with no knowledge of history are easier to fool. I don't suppose it matters – both would be considered good outcomes. Since 1980 we've been lurching backwards in time towards the Grand Ideal, which seems to be somewhere around 1800, when men were men and everybody else did as they were told. I was hoping we'd hang out in the Roaring Twenties for a while, but now they've got the bit between their teeth and the mileposts are just whizzing by. I just hope they don't overshoot and end up somewhere around 1200. I like decent hygiene.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    This all means that pretty soon, the American people will revolt, e.g. decaffeinated tea party, and the Republican will be back at 10% they deserve; let them take Obama with them as well.

    One can alway hope.

  • hmm…

    Michigan has been having a rough time of it for several years. Maybe Congress should give Obama the right to dissolve the state government and appoint an emergency financial manager. I bet the reichtards would love that!

  • I fail to see bb in GA's point about how "Obamacare" is somehow relevant to this dicussion? What does "Obamacare" have to do with the governor of Michigan coming in and dissolving your local city council and putting some corporate asshole in charge?

    I suppose you're going to tell me "ZOMG the MANDATE the MANDATE it's eeeeevul" but it's really not even a mandate. You don't have to buy health insurance. You just pay a fee that will cover the public costs when you inevitably wind up in the ER complaining about how you don't have insurance and can't afford to pay for whatever medical emergency you got yourself in.

  • I'm reminded of the Anarcho-capitalism found in Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash. Bring on the rat things!

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    This is GREAT! I've been wanting to set up a quary in Yosemite National Parks for years now. If we can just eliminate the National Park system, all that beautiful granite can be MINE! (And whomever wants to buy it from me at $100 a ton.)

    Yosemite would look SO much better as a gravel pit.

  • "It's not removing government from the private sector; it's replacing government with the private sector."

    Well, it's about time that someone backed by the will of the people pushed pack, however timidly, against the apparently unlimited power that "union thugs" have heretofore wielded to control the country. Haven't you noticed that currently only union contracts are sacrosanct? That every business is a closed union shop? That elementary school teachers are some of the highest paid people in America? That the US is failing on the education front because it's not free of public-sector unions the way Finland is? Me neither.

  • I'm a big believer in "we get the government we deserve". Maybe the democratic experience for this country has run its course and now we're seeing the next phase.

  • William C Wesley says:

    The trouble is that after everyone has been ripped off the economy comes to a standstill. Rigging the game ends it. When ever people get all that they want they usually end up dieing by it. We are like animals in that respect, the environment is supposed to supply the limits that keep us from going overboard but when our environment can not provide such limits our own instincts turns against us. Rome built the roads that were used to defeat it, success for the obese and addicted is really failure, the worst enemy of Republicanism is Republicanism itself. A bomb is all the more efficient the more thoroughly it erases its own existence, which it achieves by blocking the flow of energy it itself created. That's Republicanism in a nut shell, releasing and then blocking economic energy will cause an economic blast that will be heard round the world as heralding the total destruction of Republicanism, not a leftist required.

  • Increasingly, I see the relationship between large parts of the American public and the Republican party as being analogous to an abusive marriage. The abuse becomes more frequent and more violent, but he always gives her flowers afterwards and promises he'll change and that it won't happen again. Of course, he doesn't, it does, and the abuse is always justified as something she brought on herself.

    My one hope is that the beatings now being inflicted on the public are so violent and painful that the lies so many have told themselves for so long will no longer be believed, and that they will finally leave the relationship. The great fear, of course, is that they've so internalized the thinking of the abuser that they've given up hope of a different future and no longer even attempt to fight back.

  • I am so glad someone is paying attention to this story. This is a huge shift in the way this country operates, there should be challenges to this law dominating the headline, riots in the streets, and… no one cares. At all. Has this even made the news outside of blogs? Michigan's governor just abolished representative government in his state. I realize that I should cease being surprised, but this sort of sh#t gives you the feeling that if the country were taken over tomorrow we'd find out about if from a Boehner sound bite in 6 months.

  • @ William Wesley — the problems are a lot greater than that. The abuses of company towns are well documented. Pullman Coach and Pullman, IL were so bad they almost created the American labor movement single-handedly. It was rumored that the owner of the company was buried under 2 feet of concrete because of his fear of what the workers would do to his body.

  • @ William Wesley in re the "economic blast that will be heard round the world as heralding the total destruction of Republicanism"…. I recall being told by sources I presumed to be knowledgeable that we saw and heard that blast in 2006 and 2008, after which we would experience an unusual era of governance by ethical grownups. Oh well.

    I don't think we have the destruction of Republicanism to look forward to, any more than we have the destruction of greed, xenophobia, and self-interest to look forward to. It would be really nice if we could drive the current crop of exceptionally ignorant moral vacuums running the Republican Party back into the more conventional or traditional social roles available to people this stupidly venal (actual crooked beat cop, actual snake-oil or used-car salesman, actual petty grifter, actual vindictive PTA mom… that kind of thing). But I don't see that happening.

  • Charlie Stephen says:

    Actually, Republicans don't starve the government by choking off taxes. Twice, maybe three times as important, they starve targeted parts of government, like services for the poor, by funding other parts, like the military budget and the healthcare-industrial complex.

  • @ABABD: The problem is that both parties treat their… um… legacy customers exactly the same way now that they both have better-paying patrons. Rhetorical styles and attitudes about sexuality are pretty much the only differences that persist from either party's "base" to its top echelons.

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