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    Nick Licata does Disney World

    Mickey, Goofy, and friends sure know how to run a place: clean streets, efficient transportation, and a sense of perfect order. Just like life in the former Soviet Union, only a lot pricier.
    Maybe Mickey and his friends should take on health care next.

    Maybe Mickey and his friends should take on health care next. Daniel Brace

    President Obama’s Health Care Bill re-opened the debate as to which system can best provide not only health care, but services in general to the people: the government or the marketplace. This past week I gained insight on resolving this question, with the help of Mickey Mouse and his friend Goofy.

    If the fall of the Soviet Union represented the failure of the ultimate big government approach to delivering a utopia on earth, then Disney World represents the success of the market economy in creating that utopia: a magical kingdom. After just my first visit, I now believe that if orderliness, clean streets and sidewalks, an efficient transportation network, and, lastly, cheerful service represent the ideal community, then that perfect place is Disney World — for a daily admission charge of just 72 bucks per person (the cut rate for Floridians), bed and board being extra. If Disney World were an actual city, the admittance fee alone would come out to $25,000 a year per family member. A bit steep, but hey, there’s no panhandling.

    Disney World is not just some small patch of land: It is 43 square miles, half the size of Seattle. And it holds 15,000 employees and housing units. Of course, the workers live outside Disney World — they couldn’t afford to live there. The Soviet Union being over 150,000 times bigger, the Soviet workers had to live in their paradise — they couldn’t commute. Consequently housing had to be provided. It was much cheaper both in cost and quality than Disney World’s accommodations, but still a step up in comfort from Fort Wilderness’s trailer camp, where I stayed.

    I visited the Soviet Union in its swan song days; everything still worked but looked a bit shoddy: stretches of barren grocery store shelves, rows of monolithic apartment buildings devoid of any architectural warmth, and dull monochromatic shades of apparel. It was totally owned and operated by the government, and in that way Disney World is identical: Everyone works for the boss, be it the state or the Disney Corporation. In the Soviet Union I happened to buy some treats from a roadside cart in a small Uzbekistan village. I asked the vendor if this was his own business. He said no, I work for the state. In Disneyland, you don’t have to ask: Every employee, whether a bus driver, a food cart vendor or Snow White, has a badge with their first name in clear bold type, and they are as pleasant as Mickey himself.

    Having total control goes beyond employing everyone. You set the standard for a minimum quality of life. In the Soviet world, access to food was limited in both supply and variety, but everyone got by. At Disney World there is a cornucopia of choices, basically comfort food, high in fat and calories, but the portions are huge, so there is a satisfied stuffed feeling afterwards even if the price is excessive. As for distribution, you get what you pay for, but overall, everyone looks well fed, if not more than enough.

    The Soviet world was as safe a place as Disney World. One could walk the streets without fear of being mugged or worse in either. Security cameras protect Disney’s occupants, just as police informers did for the Soviets. The penalty was more severe in the Soviet world; with no civil rights you could end up in a labor camp for a number of years. Disney's punishment is soft by comparison — just expulsion from the Magic Kingdom. Their archipelago is the outside world, the state of Florida and beyond. Think about it: Unlike the Soviet Union, no one is trying to escape from Disney World. In fact 25 million people are paying to get in each year.

    Disney has a proven pathway to success in the marketplace: Know who you want to serve, go after them, provide a dream and make it come true, if only for a day — and make sure they pay at the door. Any marketer will tell you to skim the cream off the top and let someone else worry about what’s left behind; you can’t make money off of them, or worse, they’ll cost you. It’s not the goal of that marketplace to serve everyone. That realization leads to the government taking care of those not being served, be it their health care or whatever, or they just don't get served.

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    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 7:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    The point of this article is entirely lost on me.


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Don't go to Disney World with Nick?
    Don't go to the former USSR with Nick?
    Disney World is like private insurance companies, only, the let Nick in with a pre-existing unhappiness condition because the government made them?
    He has not made up his mind about the Chihuly "museum" and it is making him sick and conflicted?

    I used to think Nick was a fence sitter, then I figured out that Nick was the fence.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    Disney is in the business of making people happy, if only for a day and in today's world we could all use a little more of it. Hats off to Mickey and friends!


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    What the hell? Please, tell me this is askew satire!
    (now I have a vision of "it's a small world after-all" with Nick's face on the cloying little dolls)


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    I don't really understand the point of this article, either. Walt Disney called Disneyland (and, had he lived to see it opened, Disney World) the "Magic Kingdom", not the "Magic Representative Democracy." Disney was the king. If you didn't like his kingdom, you din't have to go there. People living under Soviet tyranny had no such choice. And yet, the rulers of the Soviet Union saw their demonstrably failed system, in which the author says, "everything still worked but looked a bit shoddy", as a model for the world. A model that would be adopted by force. I'll take "When You Wish Upon a Star" over "The Internationale" any day.


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    Nick: Just comparing Disney and the Soviet Union is guaranteed to get Glenn Beck riled up. He'll likely declare the Magic Kingdom a commie plot and add it to his blackboard of derangement. If he does shut down Disneyland, we'll have you to blame!

    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 1:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    I sort of understand where this article is coming from (the trash cans at Disney World all say "Waste Please" on their lids, which is my touchstone to understanding the place.) I also understand Disney's pretentions to being if not a nation-state then at least a Kingdom.

    So it's all about a "society" run by corporate bosses who own everything?

    But, the Soviet Union? Really?

    My limited experience with that was demotivated workers who didn't care because there was nothing it in for them. It was a society rigged by an authoritarian government that killed millions and imprisoned anyone who expressed dissent. I'm going to go on a limb here, but I am guessing those disciplinary measures aren't sanctioned in the Disney handbook.

    With a kid and grandparents in Florida, I spent a lot of time at Disney World, Epcot, Universal Studios, et. al. I found moments of joy with my kid, of course, but found the blandness and corporate uniformity vaguely creepy and distressing. Perhaps this is what Nick is responding to... but you can't tell from the article.


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    That is the best picture of the City Council I have seen in a long time.


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 5:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    A specter is haunting Seattle — the specter of Disneyland. Analogies come and analogies go. Licata's analogy of Disneyland to the Soviet Union goes way past me. The analogy that unfortunately makes more sense
    and comes to me like a specter is the bureaucratic analogy of the City of Seattle to the Soviet Union, where decisions are made by bureaucrats with allegiances not to the people, but to special interests, and within a social structure that rewards self-interest, marginalizes citizen interests, games its own system systematically, suppresses innovation and productivity, and legalizes certain forms of corruption so that the system, though corrupt, is perfectly legal.

    Imagine, instead, if the City of Seattle were to model itself on the Disney philosophy below:

    As the Disney people see it, Disneyland is just one giant "show," where the customers get to mingle with the performers "on stage." Disneyland has a unique viewpoint of the park and its employees, complete with its own language, which you could call "Disney-speak." According to the company philosophy, Disneyland is not just an amusement park, it is a "show" that takes place "onstage" in what amounts to a series of three-dimensional movie-style sets, called "lands." Those who help put on this "show" aren't called "employees," they are called "cast members," who "audition for roles," and wear "costumes" instead of uniforms. Visitors to the park are the "audience," and the public sections of the park where these "guests" stroll are considered "on stage" by the "cast members" (as opposed to the "backstage" areas, which are off-limits to the "guests").

    If the Magical Kingdom of Seattle were to adopt the above view of the world, things would be a lot better. For example, note that the experience of every paying audience member counts in Disneyland. Audiences willingly pay the price of admission--the price is not set too high. In the Bureaucracyland of Seattle, huge swaths of Seattle humanity complain about taxation and the cost of services.

    In Disneyland, the employees are paid to perform for customers and to put on a show. In Bureaucracyland, the customer is often an after thought.

    In Disneyland, the show is presented in distinct lands. In Bureaucracyland, neighborhoods get a bit of emphasis, but the big emphasis is on functional sub-bureaucracies:

    * City Council
    * Civil Rights
    * Customer Service Bureau
    * Ethics and Elections Commission
    * Executive Administration
    o Animal Shelter
    o City Purchasing
    o Consumer Affairs
    o Contracting Services Division
    o Revenue and Consumer Affairs
    o Risk Management
    * Finance
    * Fleets and Facilities
    o Capital Programs Division
    o Real Estate Services
    * Hearing Examiner
    * Information Technology
    * Legislative
    * Sustainability and Environment

    Arts, Culture, and Recreation
    * Arts and Cultural Affairs
    * Library
    * Parks and Recreation
    o Aquarium
    o Woodland Park Zoo
    * Seattle Center

    Health and Human Services
    * Human Services
    * Public Health - Seattle and King County

    Neighborhoods and Development
    * Economic Development
    * Housing
    * Neighborhoods
    o Customer Service Bureau
    * Planning and Development

    Public Safety
    * Fire
    * Municipal Court
    * Police

    Utilities and Transportation
    * Seattle City Light
    * Seattle Public Utilities
    * Transportation

    Where Disneyland wisely separates on-stage from back-stage, the whole public face of Bureacracyland is the long list of bureaucracies, most of them dedicated to doing backstage work, but often graded on their ability to perform onstage.

    In Disneyland, the experience of the customer is what matters, what is rewarded, and what everyone focuses on, including the customer. In Bureaucracyland, the focus is on money for bureaucracies and bureaucrats. Finances and taxation are the default focus of the City.

    In Disneyland, of course they make a profit, yet they employ thousands, entertain hundreds of thousands, and keep their eyes on the experience they are delivering to customers above all else. In Bureaucracyland, there is little knowledge of what that experience is, unless it manifests itself as public complaint and causes pain to individual bureaucrats.

    Give me Disneyland any day. My understanding is that the City of Seattle a while back rejected the idea of letting the Disney company redo the Seattle Center. Likely, the objection was that Disney would make too much money and the City too little. I doubt there was much consideration given to the overall experience that would be provided to Seattlites.

    My modest proposal would be that the City of Seattle reconsider this decision, except that this time let Disney design the citizen experience for the entire City. I have no doubt you'd see a City positively transformed in many ways and that those transformations would positively affect everyone, including the poor, the disadvantaged, the uneducated, et al.

    Licata is right to view the Soviet Union as a failed bureaucratic enterprise. Unfortunately, he also believes the City of Seattle is a higher form of bureaucracy that succeeds (no gulags is a very low bar), and that he needn't compare Seattle to successful corporate enterprises that revere their customers and the customer experience. In Seattle, it truly is a small, small world, after all.


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 6:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mallahan and McGinn for Seattle Mayor -
    A poem by John Jay Licata ~ Troubadour Poet
    and Seattle Native Son

    Will we ever have another Mayor
    That's born in Seattle!
    Who knows the city -
    Its visceral spit and spaddle,

    And understands the City Council
    Is prone to fiddle faddle

    Wherefore these two Irish lads -
    Mallahan and McGinn,
    With rolled up carpets
    Under their arms, glib tongues
    And with out-of-towner's charms,

    Are making promises of Easy Street,
    Promises made without a care
    Like so many fish like us
    Flinging across Pike Place Market -
    Flying through the air.

    ( Please note: This poem is just in good fun;
    actually, methinks our present Mayor is a pretty
    good guy and his heart is in the right(left?)place;
    a visionary with the potential to be one of our best
    mayors ever. Mr. Mallahan is a very able and talented
    fellow as well, and hopefully will hold office in the
    future. Also, Seattle's strongest attribute perhaps,
    is that we hail from all parts of the country, as well as the
    world, and it is for this reason that our creativity and
    think tank-esque makes Seattle the international portal
    of our nation. Seattle and Puget Sound politics can be
    rough sport, but as the Goethe quote goes: " A calm sea
    never made a good sailor." ) Cheers! Jay licata, April 8,2010

    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 9:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    At least Disney has a monorail that goes somewhere.


    Posted Thu, Apr 8, 11:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    So, Mr. Licata, are you suggesting that health care reform will lead to Soviet drabness? That is how your article, in entirety, reads. I've always suspected that your vision for Seattle lacks the color that a robust business community could provide.


    Posted Fri, Apr 9, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    I was at first totally with the first commenters; wondering what the point was.

    Then I read Salishson's comment, and reread the article. I get it now, and I wonder why I didn't just pop a Disney video into the VCR and waste my time, rather than spend all this time reading such an uninspiring dream of our future.

    Who knew taking the color and life out of Disney parks, and spreading it like parasites or moss on my roof was the future of Seattle and the country.

    It's too bad Mickey, Goofy, Donald and Minnie aren't on the city council.

    Posted Sat, Apr 10, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    Here's another possibility:
    ("Waste Please")

    "Our economy is like a giant happiness machine. Dredgelike, it sucks resources in the front end and spews out waste at the back." Ecological Integrity, Island Press, 2000.

    Nick shares Kathy Lambert's strong interest in an ecological approach to waste.


    Posted Tue, Apr 13, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    I think the point of Nick's ramble is that businesses take their profits from those who can best afford the services, leaving those who can't afford them without goods or services. Hence, government must step in to provide for those who can't afford, say, medical insurance.

    That ignores the fact that so many goods and services (computers, automobiles, phones, air-travel, TV's,etc.) benefit from businesses broadening their markets to sell to more people for less.

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