Airport privatization is not strictly a St. Louis issue; these arguments are taking place all over the world (see p. 106). But the way it’s unfolding here? “It’s so St. Louis,” remarks someone close to the deal. The city is David surrounded by Goliaths; the aldermen are staking out their own turf; the C-suite is pushing free market; the mayor’s agreeing, but ever so tentatively; consultants are taking baby steps to make privatization palatable. The prospect of a cash influx is dazzling some, inspiring long wish lists. Others are indignant at the perceived insult to hardworking civil servants; furious at the closed-door, big-money process; fearful of innovation that could tip into disaster.
For those whose minds are not already made up, it’s hard to know what to think. There’s something satisfying about refusing to be bought, something stolid about refusing to think bigger. Public opinion won’t hinge on data anyway; there are too many unknowns. Where St. Louisans land will be a matter of whom they trust, how they envision the city’s future, and how they want the world to run.
Whatever the outcome, the process itself deserves a little deconstruction.