Parking Lot Capitalism

Parking Lot Capitalism

There’s a lot prattle about how the government can’t do anything right, how market forces are the way to getting a job or service done efficiently, effectively, cheaply and how they create freedom, jobs, wealth and innovation.

There’s a parking lot in our city that succinctly lays waste to the myths that have been core to the capitalist talking points of America.

These parking lots used to be run by the city government. Each space had a meter, the price was cheap, the fines for overstaying your allotted time sufficiently motivating, spaces were plenty, getting in and out was convenient and easy. These lots at once beckoned people to park while at the same time fostering turnover that was at once considerate of the shopper’s schedule and the shop owners’ desire for ongoing turnover.

At a certain point the city “de-regulated” the lots and turned them over to be run by private companies. Before long the meter heads were gone leaving behind decapitated poles, new ticket spitters appeared at the entrances, and a cashier booths went up at the exit. The spitters at the entrance created short lines that backed up into the street from the entrance, the cashier booths formed exit codas that saw wait times of up to 7 minutes an increase of infinite percent compared to the zero wait time when the lot was still under management by the government. And then, of course there was price which went from a dollar an hour to 3 dollars every 20 minutes.

Where once there was an inexpensive, efficient system of parking, there were now two inconvenient bottlenecks, featuring longer waits and higher prices. Perhaps one could argue the parking lot managers were “job creators”: where once there was free entry, now there were hired attendants working in fluorescent-lit cashier stalls holding out languid hands for payment while drivers fished around in their wallets, all parties sucking fumes. But it turns out the city-owned lot was the better creator of jobs – the meter maid, the meter maintenance workers whose employment was higher skilled, and those jobs were better paid.

This, in a nutshell, is the face of capitalism unfettered regulation: poorer service, higher prices, fewer jobs, and a crappier workplace environment with lower skilled, poorer paid jobs. But what about consumer choice? Drivers could in theory choose their spot or choose another lot, but this pale smorgasbord featured not one iota of innovation; every lot in the neighborhood was run by the same private company the same lackluster way.

We hear so much about how incompetent government can be vs the miracles of deregulated industry. Perhaps we’re hearing it so often because the resumes can’t speak for themselves. It takes an army of PR to defeat the truth: unfettered capitalism works well for the top executive who cashes in on the bottom-of-the-line, but for everyone else it’s lose/lose. Deregulation, anti-government, pro market prattle is a myth, and these parking lots capture the scam with an efficiency deregulated markets only dream of.


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