Lying Media Bastards

January 27, 2007

Do Not Pass Go


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Back in high school, I read a pretty excellent cyberpunk novel called Snow Crash. Lots of cool sci-fi stuff, action, deep thoughts, and humor. Years later, I was surprised to find that not only was the book well-known, but that college classes were using passages from the book to raise issues on everything from geography to business to racism. Amazingly, much of the book’s humor and satire has come true, or nearly so. In part, the book depicts a future where governments have collapsed and everything has been privatized. You get a glimpse of a world where competing law enforcement franchises (hired by independent gated communities) take people to competing corporate prisons. Even roads are privatized, built and operated by corporations, and you are only allowed to drive on the ones for which you’ve paid.

And none of that is very far-fetched anymore, with private security companies, “military contractors”, and corporate-run prisons.

But today, we’re even seeing that road privatization has arrived.

This trend already appears to be underway in other countries, the US is just late to the party. In this particular case, it is the state of Indiana leasing the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG), an Australian company which owns/operates toll roads in Australia, Canada, Britain, Portugal, Germany, and France. They also run the Dulles Greenway in Virginia, the Skyway in Illinois, and the South Bay Expressway in San Diego. About 15 miles from my house.

Anyhow, for $3.8 billion, MIG will get control of the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years, and can raise the tolls by a certain percentage every year (and something tells me they will). MIG also gets some sweet tax breaks as part of the deal. The article linked to above claims that two estimates were done about the deal; the analysis from Indiana governor’s office (who strongly supported the deal) claimed that the state would come out ahead, but the article implies that this report was shady. A second report by an economic professor argued that the state would lose about $8 billion over the course of the lease.

Public opinion in Indiana ran about 2-to-1 against the privatization. But who cares what the peasants think? The state legislature passed it anyway. What will the state do with that $3.8 billion? Build more roads. No, really.

The other fun bit is that the Indiana state government got advice about the MIG deal from Goldman Sachs (for a cool $20 million). And at the same time, Goldman Sachs was investing in MIG. Nice work if you can get it.

Setting aside the sleaze and corruption here, I can’t get over how bone-headed it is to give up your ROADS. You kinda need those to get around. Maybe next they can lease out the sidewalks and weather.

Posted by Jake on January 27, 2007 9:03 pm

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