Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Stupid Government Tricks

People often say to me, "J, your searing, vitriolic hatred for the state and its various depredations borders on fanatical and unnatural. How do you do it?" The answer is simple: constant exposure to news stories that reinforce my pre-existing disillusionment with forcible government. I mean, it's not like there's any shortage there, right? Consider the following:

U.S. Draws Up Space Tourism Rules:
"The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is attempting to regulate the commercial space industry in a bid to ensure minimum safety standards. It has recommended security checks similar to those for airline passengers."

Right, because we all know what a smashing success that has been. What really bothers me is the arrogance of these people. It's as if the FAA believes Sir Richard Branson and his insurance companies have no natural incentives to protect their investments from the scourge of terrorism! Let's assume that these commercial space launches take place on private property, in private spacecraft, with services contracted between consenting providers and passengers. All parties understand and assent to the risks involved, so tell me: what role does the F-A-Fucking-A have here? They have no property interest or financial stake in any of the proceedings, yet they presume to tell these innovators, these pioneers of private space travel, how to conduct their business and provide for the safety and security of their well-heeled clientele! Unbelievable.

$0.02 Stamps Hard to Come Buy:
"The price of a first-class stamp rises to 39 cents from 37 cents today - but all the vending machines at Manhattan's main post office were out of 2-cent add-ons yesterday. That left New Yorkers waiting for up to 90 minutes to buy the stamps at the window, because they were being sold only at one window."

See, this story would be cute if it was just another illustration of the government's legendary incompetence, but the truth is much worse. The government owns a legal monopoly over the delivery of mail, which means competition is legally outlawed. Absent the need to compete, the state has no incentive to innovate or adequately serve its customers, because there are literally no other choices. No market mechanism exists to ensure that postal prices reflect an equilibrium between supply and demand. Would private industry charge 39 cents per delivery, regardless of whether the destination is down the street or 3000 miles across the country? We'll never know since the government won't permit the competition. Here's the real problem: the postal system is one of the more visible and benevolent examples of the clumsy state, but this sclerosis and inertia is inherent in all government endeavors. Government does not face the same profit and loss test as entrepreneurs. It does not confront the threat of competition or obsolescence. It has no rational way to allocate resources or anticipate customer (citizen) needs. It produces nothing. All government does is extract resources from the productive sector through taxation and inflation, and it uses those resources in politically (not economically) expedient ways.

US Troops Seize Award-Winning Iraqi Journalist:
"American troops in Baghdad yesterday blasted their way into the home of an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian and Channel 4, firing bullets into the bedroom where he was sleeping with his wife and children."

This is what George W. Bush means when he speaks of "spreading freedom and democracy" through the Middle East. But it's OK, because they're fighting terror, right?

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