Politics & Policy

Baghdad Trash

A job for the free market.

Here’s an idea for the new reconstruction team in Iraq: Privatize the trash hauling.

Garbage is a mounting problem in Baghdad. And there are also lots of people with nothing to do who need money. So find several suitable spots on the outskirts of the city and set up rudimentary landfills. Tell citizens that the Coalition will pay money for garbage, so long as they load it up, haul it out to the dump, and dump it. Figure out a reasonable price, a few dollars per pickup truck load, more for larger vehicles. Make sure the ingress/egress is designed for ease of traverse to prevent traffic jams. Keep the whole thing simple, make the transactions easy for everyone to calculate, and keep rules to a minimum. Then see what happens.

My guess is that Baghdad will have cleaner streets, young men who might otherwise be looting or agitating will be organizing garbage collection — sub-economies will probably sprout too, territories being claimed and organized by various methods, not all of them savory. But it will get the job done.

The Coalition does not have the manpower to cope with garbage removal, and trying to establish a centrally controlled system to do it will bring all the benefits of Soviet-style economics to liberated Iraq. If the Coalition just sets the terms for market-based activity, Iraqi entrepreneurs will come out of the woodwork to organize it and get things done. It has to work better than doing nothing.

Hard to believe that the country with the most vibrant, innovative people in the world can’t find ways like this to help the Iraqi people unleash their own creative instincts.

I doubt that Iraqi civil society could be built on sanitation services alone, but it’s a good place to start.

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