In a recent article at FEE, “Walmart, Pepsi Rescue Flint from Government Failure,” Jeffrey Tucker celebrates the generous donation of 6.5 million bottles of water Walmart, Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle have made to the schoolchildren of Flint, Michigan to ameliorate their ongoing water crisis. Tucker takes this contribution as evidence of a general trend: “In states of emergency, the private sector has increasingly made up for the obvious failures of the public sector.” He goes on to laud the private sector for “becom[ing] the service provider of last resort” and declares that, at long last, it is “[t]ime to update the civics textbooks: the future of public service is private enterprise. And the future of the public sector will be much like its past: failure, flailing, and finger-pointing.”
Unfortunately, while Tucker’s heart is in the right place, the particulars of his praise for the private sector just don’t hold water. He is correct in his critique of the government throughout the article, of course. From the EPA’s Dr. Susan Hedman to the autocratically appointed “emergency” manager Darnell Early and the entire rogues gallery of politicians and bureaucrats who worked alongside them, the government is responsible for poisoning the city of Flint, Michigan. And until control of the city’s water is returned to the people of Flint, the city will continue to suffer. As I said though, that isn’t where Tucker goes wrong. His error lies in attributing anything resembling virtue to the actions of Walmart, Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle.
Am I saying these corporations should not have given millions of bottles of water to schoolchildren who would otherwise suffer the horrors of continued lead exposure? No. I’m saying these four corporations’ gift is a drop in the bucket compared to what they’ve taken from taxpayers. While documenting the massive theft and damages these corporations have inflicted on a worldwide scale is beyond the scope of this article, the debt they owe to the people of Michigan is more than enough to negate any praise of which Tucker might think them worthy.
Nestle in particular has a history of abusing Michigan’s water resources. From 2000 to 2009, its subsidiary, Nestles Waters of America, took nearly $10 million in subsidies from the Michigan government while pumping as much as 576,000 gallons of water per day from underground reserves in Mecosta County. This situation only changed after a nine year lawsuit brought by other landowners in Mecosta County finally forced Nestle to reduce their pumping by close to half. Pepsico and Coca-Cola as the next largest bottled water producers in the state receive preferential pricing for Detroit’s municipal water — which is likely the same water they’ll be giving the schoolchildren of Flint — and numerous subsidies. And Walmart took nearly $2.5 million in subsidies to pay for a distribution center in the state.
Tucker, by including Walmart, Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle in his distorted conception of a private sector, promotes vulgar libertarianism and does a disservice to the businesses and organizations located in and owned by Flint residents and the surrounding areas which have made real sacrifices to help their community. I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, but there’s no need to give credit where so large a debt is still owed.