Howdy Doody being displayed at Detroit Institute of Arts Puppet Display Case. The case is illuminated by programmable LED lighting system. Author: Volkan Yuksel


Americans are born into the belief that accumulation of capital is the most important part of their economic system. In their new book, The Making of Global Capitalism, Leo Panitz and Sam Glindin show how the US government has worked to create a new world order where private capital accumulation is the dominant and controlling function of governments around the world. Part of that involves covert and not so covert attacks on foreign socialist governments. But we can see it in our cities and states.

For example, for centuries US churches and communities established hospitals organized as non-profit entities. These hospitals provided medical care to contributors and non-contributors alike. Now for-profit corporations, with treasuries fattened by the profits reaped from sick people, are buying out those entities, leaving the communities dependent on the rich people who control those corporations for their medical care. The logical outcome is spiraling hospital costs, because the only goal of a corporation is to maximize returns to shareholders at any price. Including your health.

In the same way, states and cities have turned over their prisons to private companies. Again, the goal of these corporations is to maximize profits at any price, including the health and safety of prison inmates. Since I live in Chicago, I am duty bound to mention the outrageous parking meter deal, and the stupid Indiana Toll Road deal.

In each of these situations, we as citizens bought and built things for our mutual benefit. Some rancid government types in thrall to the idea that the market should do everything decided that we shouldn’t own things as a community, and sold them to some private company. That means that instead of getting things at a reasonable price, paying for them with tax revenues and user fees, and owning important assets and services ourselves, we are getting screwed over by a bunch of rich people and their minions devoted to taking as much of our money as they can for themselves.

One big reason governments are selling public assets to the rich is to raise money to pay on government debts. Governments have debts because they borrowed from the rich instead of taxing them. That, of course, is the real scandal. But the rich want you to think it’s your fault so you should pay, or forfeit all that juicy public property.

Detroit is the poster child for the future. The rich and their minions on Wall Street are circling the city, planning to buy up the assets that belong to the community at fire sale prices. This story in the Financial Times strikes just the right note:

The state attorney-general has opined that [the Art Collection is] “held in public trust for the benefit of the city’s residents”. But some creditors and their counsel say it is ludicrous that they are recovering only a small fraction of the money they are owed while the city is sitting on such valuable items.

Among those valuable items are a wonderful collection of art works, and we know how much Wall Streeters love that art. Steve Cohen of SAC, the recently indicted hedge fund, just paid casino billionaire Stephen Wynn $155 million for Picasso’s Le Rêve, widely perceived as a poke in the eye of the wimpy SEC. There’s no telling how much the creepy Walton heirs would pay so they could move it to the bustling metropolis of Bentonville, AR for their Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

What else is there? The Financial Times points to Belle Island, a logical site for development by the rich as a playground carefully isolated from the misery of the city; the water and sewage system; 22 square miles of Detroit, mostly blighted; nine parking garages, two parking lots and a bunch of parking meters; and half of an aging cross-border tunnel to Windsor, Ontario. More generally, the private sector is looking for roads, bridges, airports, utilities and hospitals. So what could go wrong with private ownership?

Just think about giving a private company a monopoly on Detroit’s water supply. I’m just sure they won’t charge monopoly prices, enormous hook-up fees and so on. They’ll be satisfied with a pint of blood from every citizen of the city over the age of 10.