SCENE: Mitch BERG is building a snow wall around his property.
Before he can close the last gap along the sidewalk, MyLyssa Silberman – reporter for National Public Radio’s Saint Paul bureau, covering the “Fake News” and “Diversity” beats – pulls up in a Subaru Outback.
SILBERMAN: [stepping out of the car]Merg!
BERG: Er…hi, MyLyssa. What’s up?
SILBERMAN: I’m doing a series on the purveyors of brisk, quippy rhetorical memes and their use in disseminating “fake news”.
BERG: Of course you are.
SILBERMAN: If I may. In the past, you have referred to the new municipal trash collection systems in cities like Bloomington, Saint Paul and other cities as [riffles through notes] “Soviet-style trash collection”. Also [squinting] “East German”, “Tony Soprano-Style”, “Cuban” and…
BERG: North Korean.
SILBERMAN: Here in my notebook it says “North Korean”.
SILBERMAN: Are these racist references against Russians, Germans, Sicilians, Latinos and Asians? And how are they affected by climate change?
BERG: No, and not at all.
SILBERMAN: OK, we’ll come back to that. But what do those terms mean?
BERG: It’s a reference to the fact that in countries that try to repeal the free market – among them most “socialist” nations – there is no incentive to serve customers better. In planned, marketless economies, all goods and services are essentially rationed, and there’s no impetus to provide a good or service better, more efficiently, or even more cheerfully than anyone else, since there’s no upside to it; you get paid the same whether you’re a jerk or an Employee of the Month.
SILBERMAN: OK, but how does this relate to trash collection in the Twin Cities? We haven’t suspended the free market.
BERG: Well, we’re going to need a price check on that statement. Saint Paulites are complaining about the service they’re getting from the hauler their city so graciously selected for them:
Beginning Jan. 30, [Waste Management, the hauler allocated to a large part of the East Side by the City Council’s “Sopranos”-style division of the city’s turf] skipped pickups on her street, Cottage Avenue East, for three weeks in a row. Rather than complete full collection Wednesday, drivers exited their vehicles to take pictures of overflowing trash carts and lids that couldn’t fully close. Some they emptied. Some they didn’t.
Now, residents are bracing for financial penalties.
“They drove through the alley yesterday, right past all the garbage cans that were out and not covered with or buried in snow, and only emptied two cans,” said Riggs on Thursday in an email to Ward 6 City Council member Kassim Busuri’s office. “Since that seems to be one of many excuses they use, yes, the lids are not closed, which is another thing they will charge us extra for. According to St. Paul policy, they must close. Otherwise it is $3
BERG: By the way, MyLyssa – my old trash collector would only upcharge me for an over-full container if a good chunk of the bag was visible. The new haulers are gloriously Minnesota passive-aggressive about it, and the customer service is atrocious, even in other neighborhoods.
Who picked up your trash, by the way?
SILBERMAN: I live in a condo downtown, so my trash just goes away.
BERG: Right. Continuing:
Busuri said he’s more than just sympathetic. He’s in the same boat.
“I’ve had the same problem myself,” Busuri said, “where the trash was not picked up for going on three weeks. It bothers me to see a garbage hauler not fulfilling their obligation in the contract. There’s a section in the contract where we can charge the haulers for every collection they miss. I’m looking into that
SILBERMAN: See! They’ll fix it!
BERG: Sure. The city council will cross the actions of a previous city council, most of whom have gone on to positions of bureaucratic power that .can be used against them.
SILBERMAN: What do you mean?
BERG: OK, so imagine you were to park in Teri Gross’s parking spot…
SILBERMAN: That would be really bad.
BERG: It’ll never get fixed. There’s no market imperative to do anything, and plenty of bureaucratic imperatives not to.
SILBERMAN: So you’re saying you’re transphobic.
BERG: Are you by some chance working on getting a PR job with the city?