This week the Emanuel administration added six members to its infrastructure trust board, and announced the members of its Midway-privatization advisory board. Conveniently, a couple writers I like have long, interesting reads on the direction of Chicago politics.
What we’re feeling viscerally, but seeing from too close to appreciate, is the logical end of decades of neoliberalization of government, which has transformed a managerial state into an entrepreneurial one. Our Mayors are now “entrepreneurs-in-chief,” and the result is that governance has been transformed from a participatory process of pooling resources and regulating behavior for the public good into one of government by private negotiation and enticement of capital through competition between states, cities, and even neighborhoods.
The federal government and the state are not going giving the city any real money; they are not investing in infrastructure, or education, or social welfare in any real way, the way they did up through the late 1970s and 1980s. The name of the game is “growth” through enticement of capital.
This is important, I think: the idea that the entrepreneurial city is has not developed in isolation, but is in part a response to changes at the federal level, which have seen less money diverted to civic-level infrastructure (and infrastructure generally, for that matter). The infrastructure trust is a great example; rather than using (non-existent) tax dollars and having the city retrofit its own buildings, or using tax dollars to hire private firms to do so, the city uses private money up front and uses some of the savings to pay it back over time, because there's just not enough up-front money otherwise. (Of course, it's likely that much the money will be public money that's privately managed—many of the big pools of money sitting around waiting to be invested in such trusts are public pensions.)
Looking more specifically at one function of government, Micah Uetricht writes in Jacobin on the CTU and the Emanuel Administration, and explores an interesting potential dynamic: the possibility of a rift between teachers' unions and the Democratic Party.
There have been rumblings of a potential rupture in the teachers union-Democratic coalition for years, as teachers have grown increasingly agitated at the attacks on their profession by Democrats. Numerous such stories cropped up most recently after “Won’t Back Down,” a Hollywood feature film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal widely panned as little more than a teacher-slandering propaganda piece (and a god-awful one, at that), was screened at the Democratic National Convention last year–technically an unofficial event, but one that required approval by the Obama White House. A particularly noxious piece of anti-union and anti-educator agitprop, given the green light to be screened at the party’s grand quadrennial event straight from the top.
In Next American City, Tanveer Ali on how Chicago is on the vanguard of the entrepreneurial city with its infrastructure trust (the American vanguard, at least; it's old news in Europe):
But in the U.S., the concept is still in its infancy stage. Why the idea has yet to gain traction here has much to do with the reliance of local governments on direct assistance from Washington and tax-free public bonds.
“The United States is way behind,” said Peter Swiecicki, a Poland-based attorney who has played a central role in arranging PPPs such as those associated with the tollway in his country. “By embracing these structures further, the funding structure not only changes, but building, designing and operation are more efficient because the private side is taking a risk.”
Those tax-free muni bonds? They're being second-guessed right now. If they disappear, it'll push more cities towards the model that Emanuel is developing.
Photograph: ` TheDreamSky (CC by 2.0)