Saturday, July 19, 2014

Privatizing Public Space

Of all capitalism's horrific crimes against humanity, the worst may be destroying the very idea of public space that no individual or corporation can deny to other people.

David Atkins at Political Animal:

On one hand this seems like a cross-section of American entrepreneurialism combined with high-tech democratization similar to using Uber or Lyft for transportation, or buying a hot restaurant reservation via smartphone app.  
But on the other hand it’s a very personal and physical representation of a disturbing trend toward the privatization of public space. There’s something fundamental about using a public space for free or low cost as long as you need it, then ceding it to the first comer for their own use. That’s the principle of the commons. What happens when you allow people to start becoming mini-grifters, overstaying in public spaces in order to make a quick buck off the next person who can afford to pay their price for public space at the expense of those who cannot?

What happens when those people then hire other people to sit in public spaces and sell them? That’s almost a textbook case of tragedy of the commons combined with rent-seeking abuse by unscrupulous hucksters.

As of now San Francisco is stopping the practice, which is sure to cause howls of protest from libertarian types. But what other choice is there? And isn’t this the perfect encapsulation of why regulation is needed if the public spaces, parking and otherwise, are going to survive?

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