Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Invasion of the Oxymorons

Crain's is reporting that EDC-EDC, of all people-is commissioning a study on the impact of living wage. What's next, a study by DEP-an agency with a long advocacy against the use of food waste disposers-on the impact, what else, of food waste disposers on the waste treatment infrastructure? But that's exactly what the city did-aided and abetted by the city council that is now, at least in regards to the living wage analysis, finding that its chickens are coming home to roost.

But just to digress a moment, the DEP food waste disposer study-after a couple of million in wasted funds were dispersed for a predetermined outcome-managed to conclude that these useful waste reduction tools were a real and present danger if deployed in the city's food stores and restaurants; and in spite of the fact that they are used nationwide, with no real danger to local waste water treatment facilities all over the country. And not only that, they are in fact mandated in Philly if any food store or restaurant wants to get a city permit for a garbage dumpster.

But the city council leadership went along with the self servers and squashed a legitimate study-one that was endorsed by 33 members-to do a pilot program to empirically test the actual impacts on disposers. What was then Commissioner Lloyd's view of the matter? In a letter to the bill's sponsors she, apparently with a straight face, claimed that her in-house theoretical study would be a more scientifically valid method than the empirical data collection from the proposed pilot program. So, we can understand why nine council members are upset with the living wage study sham-the city simply can't be trusted.

As Crain's points out: "The Industrial Development Agency Tuesday approved up to $1 million for an Economic Development Corp. study on the feasibility of tying living wage mandates to city-subsidized economic development projects, even as the study came under fire on two fronts. Comptroller John Liu continued his recent attacks on the EDC, calling the study a “million-dollar sham” that “fails to ensure the delivery of an objective product.” And nine council members wrote to EDC President Seth Pinsky, expressing “concerns about the manner and spirit in which this study is conducted.”

Do yah think? Well it's nice to see our legislature coming out of its supine somnambulence with a newly minted appreciation of the fact that the city, with a perpetual thumb on the scale, can't be trusted to conduct an honest count. Maybe they should have polled the businesses over at Willets Point who are fighting to keep their properties; in this case, EDC has hired two separate traffic consultants to analyze conditions that have proffered such discrepant reports that it appears that at least one of them must be coming from an alternative universe.

And maybe the council members will empathize with Jim Gerson of the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development when his promotion of an independent review of the impact of Flushing Commons on the small business of that neighborhood was shot down by the developer and his allies who want-guess who?-EDC to conduct the impact study. And let's not forget that there is no oversight over how EDC chooses the consultants who turn out to be so accommodating to the agency's world view.

So the dissenting council members are discovering a truism that we learned so long ago: "At the root of both complaints is the fact that the very administration commissioning the study has repeatedly argued that living and prevailing wage provisions would hinder development and kill jobs, creating the perception that the outcome is already determined. “It is critical that this study is conducted in a transparent, independent manner, and equally critical that it not appear that the study's conclusions are predetermined,” council members Brad Lander, Annabel Palma, Oliver Koppell, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams, Deborah Rose, Margaret Chin, Gale Brewer and Letitia James wrote to Mr. Pinsky."

Here, here! And no one appears to be buying the EDC fig leaf: "Under the EDC proposal, an advisory committee made up of labor unions, business and real estate groups and think tanks would make recommendations to shape the terms of the study. Both Mr. Liu and the council members are instead calling for an academic advisory group made up of economists to review the study's scope, methodology and results."

What has now become clear to an ever increasing cohort of policy analysts and elected officials, is that an independent EDC study is the equivalent of that most famous oxymoron: military intelligence. And in the process, everyone is beginning to understand why the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre has noted that, "bureaucratic expertise is one of the great moral fictions of our time."