The magic of the free market and the wisdom of our Wall Street producers/betters at work:
Earlier this year I wrote about the Jefferson County story in a piece called “Looting Main Street” in Rolling Stone. In this tale employees of a group of high-powered Wall Street banks, led in particular by JP Morgan Chase, funneled money to local politicians in Alabama, who in turn signed off on toxic interest-rate swap deals that left the county saddled with monstrous debt for a generation.
Jefferson County is essentially the world’s worst credit card story. The local pols ran up massive bills to build a “Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants,” then saddled future voters with a blizzard-worth of rate hikes, punitive fees and late charges. Alabamans who should have paid $250 million for their new sewer system now owe over $3 billion, thanks to their corrupt politicians and the greedy carpetbagger banks who dragged these local hicks into deadly derivative deals.
These types of finance scams are the template for a whole new type of symbiotic relationship between politicians and the financial services industry: deals like the JeffCo interest-rate swaps allow politicians to borrow vast sums essentially without immediate consequence, making it possible to green-light politically-popular programs during their terms but leaving future leaders holding the bag when the bills come due. We saw similar stories in Greece and in the Denver school system; hundreds of communities in Italy and other European countries are also experiencing similar debt-blowups thanks to rate swaps and other deadly deals.
Anyway, back in the mid-nineties, the average sewer bill for a Jefferson County family of four was only $14.71. By the time I wrote my story earlier this year, most citizens were paying about four times that amount – and as of this summer, the average JeffCo sewer bill was $63. Well, the news now comes out that rates will go up again, and in the best case scenario they will jump 25% a year. The worst case? Jefferson County sewer rates could jump as much as 527%, with some estimates placing the average monthly bill as high as $395 a month.
At some point, people are going to figure out that our current corrupt capitalist system isn’t about the efficient allocation of capital, but straight up robbery and thieving. Not any time soon, I suspect, but some day.