Episode 47: Oliver Porter
Oliver Porter designs and implements partnerships between municipalities and corporations, allowing cities to privatize virtually all of their functions. Since his central role in incorporating Sandy Springs, Georgia in 2005, Oliver his moved on to advising numerous other American and Japanese cities through his consultancy firm PPP Associates and has authored two books, Creating the New City of Sandy Springs and Public/Private Partnerships for Local Governments. Before his work in urban privatization, he was an executive at AT&T.
Our conversation telescopes from micro to macro, beginning with the story of Sandy Springs’ incorporation and ending with an extended back-and-forth about the role of government, human nature, and American decline. You’ll want to keep Lawrence Torcello’s discussion of John Rawls in mind as Oliver and I discuss the biological and social lotteries—which segues into a contrast with Chuck Collins regarding safety nets and opportunity. Happiness and satisfaction come up as well and we discover a resonance between Laura Musikanski’s work and Oliver’s interest in making government more responsive to the electorate. Finally, we’ll revisit the question nagging at James Bamford: what is democracy good for if it chooses to undermine itself? Let’s be honest, nobody’s going to answer that question more succinctly than Winston Churchill.
Micah and I conclude the episode with a discussion of how Oliver’s themes relate to local/central and individual/collective tensions we’ve seen elsewhere in The Conversation. We’ll also touch upon declension narratives, opportunity and historical context, and return (twice) to Mark Mykleby’s aphorism that “our assumptions have become our truths.”
Artwork by Eleanor Davis.
The best work of a government is one where the people wouldn’t even notice it is there. The most of the best all-level government programs here in Canada (police services, fire fighting, emergency health care, unemployment insurance, safety net programs, etc.) are things that, if you find yourself in need of, you are probably having a bad day. Most people don’t have bad days — they have regular days, or perhaps even good days, if they’re lucky. Some people are lucky enough to never have such a bad day. Therefore, they are left in confusion about why they would possibly need such a thing — after all, I’m doing just fine.
Do you guys think that people so often assume the public sector is “inefficient” because the need to interact with the government is indicative of negative experiences happening elsewhere?
I found myself annoyed over the idea that Mr. Porter was being racist. If this project seeks a real conversation, then surely someone questioning why Africa is not the dominant continent and Europe is (despite being a younger civilization) has significant value. It is a fundamentally cultural and value related question and seemed posed in a socio-economic conversation without any racial bias.
Africa isn’t a cultural unit and Europe isn’t a cultural unit, neither of them are civilizations, and both geographical regions have hosted a diverse array of societies over time. They’re arbitrary categories drawn up by Europeans along racial lines and, if you look at how they have been used historically, they have been justifications for race-based policies. This has been documented to the point of tedium by historians.
This wasn’t a conversation about Africa or Europe, it was a conversation about opportunity and privilege in America. Justifying current racial inequity in America by claiming that “Africa” has been historically uncompetitive with “Europe” is nonsense. Social Darwinists were having that conversation in the 1920s, we don’t need to be having it now.
we many not want to speak to social “Darwinists” anymore but they keep talking to us. And people are still confusing the work of Darwin with this ‘social darwinism’ program. Till
this is cleared up there’s still something to talk about. I was initially turned off this subject because I live in a place that’s been trying to PPP as much of the infrastructure and services as it can for at least 30 years. The p-ublic means the governemtn and cronies, the P-rivate means the corporations whose business is private and none of yours and the P-artnership is the marriage of Govt and Corps. All utilities and services now cost much more and are still rising. Unless of course you can afford to go ‘off the grid’ which doesn’t help poorer neighbours whose bills slowly climb even more as power company buys excess from the richer off grid folks and sells it back to the poorer neighbours to recoup their cost. A recipe for good neighbour feelings when everyone catches on.
We now approach becoming a neighbourhood where people select cohorts by number of solar panels on roof and number of perfect teeth still in mouth. There has been no improvement in public, in the sense of ‘we, the people’, participation in process of government, local or other. Only geater cynicism and feelings of powerlessness with no recourse leading to apathy, despair and destructive behaviours.
But I will keep listening.