Salon’s Michael Lind -- the best political commentator in America, IMHO -- made an oblique reference to Chicago’s parking meter in a column entitled “Defeating useless rich people.”
Lind was criticizing what he called the Rentier class -- financiers who make money not by selling goods and services, but by “their natural or artificial monopoly power to extract excessive tolls, fees and other recurrent payments from the rest of society, including productive businesses.”
The typical rich American, Lind argued, “should be an innovative industrialist or technologist, not a Wall Street financier or a guy with a parking-meter monopoly.”
Chicago Parking Meters LLC is a perfect example of a Rentier outfit. The company essentially paid the city a $1.1 billion bribe for a 75-year-long monopoly on a publicly-owned resource. The streets where Chicagoans park are maintained with public funds, and the company’s monopoly is enforced by the Chicago Police Department, which tickets delinquent drivers. Chicago Parking Meters is free to extract excessive tolls from the public because it has no competition -- no one else can charge money for parking on Chicago streets. It’s a parasitic, not a productive, enterprise, because it stands to extract $11 billion in fees over the life of its lease -- money that otherwise would have gone into the city’s treasury. Even more than that, Chicago Parking Meters is damaging businesses by charging more for parking than drivers would have to pay in the suburbs.
An Anti-Rentier movement would oppose unproductive, ill-begotten wealth, not the rich in general. Wealthy individuals who get richer by investing in start-up companies or funding long-lived, creative blue-chip firms provide a valuable benefit to society, even as they risk losing their own money. Such risk-taking investors are the opposites of financial sector rentiers who seek to bribe policymakers into letting them privatize their gains while socializing their losses.
Indeed, Chicago Parking Meters LLC has sued the city to force it to make up potential income lost to handicapped parking and street fairs. Chicago Parking Meters LLC, Michael Lind has your number.