When governments create problems and shortages, the free market rushes in to try to give people what they need. But in the face of almost every innovation, there are politicians and their corrupt friends in the private sector trying to make sure nobody upsets the status quo.
Do you ever take taxis? I rarely do, but I find the experience unpleasant when I have to. You call a dispatcher — who’s frequently surly and unpleasant — and then wait for a cab driver to show up. You might get a decent driver or you might get a jerk who’s unpleasant to deal with. Then you’re taken to where you want to go, at which point you pay a fee that some government bureaucrat set — very possibly in collusion with the people who own the taxis.
In many cities, there aren’t even cabs to meet the demand. There are set numbers of permits available for taxis and nobody can legally go into business without one of the permits. The people who own the existing permits fight to prevent more permits from being issued, because they don’t want competition. They like a world in which a government agency decides how many people can be in the business. That way, they don’t have to use things such as better services and lower prices to compete for business. (Actually, they’re prohibited from charging lower prices.)
There’s a free market solution to this terrible situation, but politicians and bureaucrats are trying to kill it. There are new smartphone apps — Lyft, Sidecar and Uber — that allow anyone to get a ride from someone who has a car that’s registered with the service. If you need a ride, you tell the app what you need and the app tells you who’s available. You choose your driver (and car) and that person picks you up. At the destination, you’re given a suggested “donation” and you’re allowed to rate the driver.
Nobody is forced to use these services. The people who use them seem very happy with them. The only people who aren’t happy are the people who run the existing taxi services — and the politicians and bureaucrats who are looking out for the people they’ve given a monopoly to. Several cities have looked into banning these services, but officials at the San Francisco airport have started making “citizen’s arrests” of drivers who pick up or drop off people who have arranged the services through one of the apps.
The real question is why this sort of service needs regulation. If the service providers and consumers are happy with their arrangement, why should government have the right (or responsibility) to interfere?
Those who argue for regulation almost always claim that they just want to ensure public safety. Does anyone really believe that? I don’t. I believe there’s a government-created monopoly in place and the regulators and politicians are simply siding with the people in the system they’ve created. Is there corruption involved that makes officials care so much about protecting the gravy train that they’ve created for certain people? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
In many parts of our lives, this sort of petty regulation makes our lives less pleasant and costs us money. Even more than that, though, it deprives us of the right to make our own decisions.
I don’t want a nanny deciding who I can do business with and who I can’t. I don’t want politicians and bureaucrats colluding with private interests to make sure they get my money. I want to make my own decisions.
Until people quit buying the “public safety” lie and start insisting that they be allowed to do business with whoever they want, innovation is going to continue to be crushed — all in the name of political control and monopoly profits.