Mutualizing Water Services and Detroit

Some people in the city of Detroit recently had their water shut off due to 90 million dollars of past unpaid water dues. Much of the discussion that will probably emerge or has already emerged will revolve around whether to privatize the water supply there. This would probably involve contracting out services to a for profit corporation. Many libertarians will no doubt cheer this on as the “non-governmentalist” solution to the crisis. There is another solution far more consistent with libertarian principle than turning a government monopoly into a corporate one. The solution of mutualization or cooperatization.

Mutualization and cooperatization involves turning control of the service over to the people who produce it and receive it. In the case of water; this would entail handing it over to engineers, plumbers, electricians, rate-payers, and so forth. It would be a consumer’s-producer’s cooperative. This would make it neither governmental nor corporate. A transcendence of both forms of social organization. A showing of the fact that there are ways to organize services beyond the usual dualism of corporate and government control.

To further this goal, water workers should non-violently occupy the water department’s space and turn back on the water to those denied. They should invite elected representatives of consumers to a public meeting conducted under their auspices and invite them to form a cooperative. There should be pressure put on the city government to not interfere with this. In the current context of governmentalism, they could also use the state’s existing legal framework to form a legally recognized cooperative and shield it from attack that way. They could also make use of Federal Reserve notes to further its legitimacy and protect it from assault. An eventual move to a local or national alternative currency would be advisable though.

The above is based on the premise that marketization is not always the ideal choice nor is government the only alternative capable of providing services. Mutalization avoids the pitfalls of both corporate and government control. Neither of which truly empowers the people most affected by the decisions taken with respect to a given service. Both rest on top-down command and control hierarchy rather than bottom-up voluntary cooperation. This makes them more similar than either of their partisans would like you to believe. The revolutionary solution is to transcend these similar structures and construct relatively new ones. We can build on and learn from existing cooperative arrangements, but we can also improve on them. I look forward to seeing more of them take off!

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