Posts tagged ‘Milton Friedman’

The Stupid, Autocratic, and Corrupt Way We Manage Water

With every item or service we buy, supply and demand are matched via prices.  Except water.  Because, for a variety of populist and politically scheming motives, no one wants to suggest "raising prices to consumers" as the obvious solution to reducing California water use in a drought, despite the fact that it would reduce demand in -- by definition -- the lowest value uses as well as provide incentives new sources and alternatives.  So instead we get authoritarian stuff like this (press release from CA Senator Fran Pavely):

SACRAMENTO – Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1281 by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) on Thursday to require greater disclosure of water use in oil production.

Oil well operators use large amounts of water in processes such as water flooding, steam flooding and steam injection, which are designed to increase the flow of thicker oil from the ground. In 2013, these enhanced oil recovery operations used more than 80 billion gallons of water in California, the equivalent amount used by about 500,000 households and more than 800 times the amount used for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

The impact of this use on domestic and agricultural water supplies is not known because oil companies are not required to disclose details about their water use

“At a time when families, business and farmers are suffering the effects of severe drought, all Californians need to do their part to use valuable water resources more wisely,” Senator Pavley said. “The public has the right to know about the oil industry’s use of limited fresh water supplies.”

Oil well operators have an available source of recycled water known as “produced water,” which is trapped deep underground and often comes to the surface during oil production. More than 130 billion gallons of produced water surfaced during oil production in California last year.

Many oil companies already recycle some of their produced water, but the amount is not known because of the lack of disclosure. Senate Bill 1281 requires oil well operators to report the amount and source of their water, including information on their use of recycled water.

The ONLY reason for such disclosure is because they want to impose some sort of autocratic command and control rules on oil industry water use -- not water quality mind you, but the amount of water they use.  Add this to all the other creepy Cuba-style water actions, like having neighbors spy on each other to monitor water use, and you will understand why folks like Milton Friedman argued that free markets were essential to free societies.

In honor of the California water situation, I have created the second in my series of Venn diagram on economic beliefs.

 

click to enlarge

Cronyism and Corporate Welfare, in Hawaii

I don't know if its the distance from the Mainland or something about its history, but Hawaii often appears to be among the worst states for regulatory capture by local businesses.  This example was brought to me by a co-worker, who lives in AZ but wants to buy a condo in Hawaii.  They want the condo for their own use, but also hope to rent it out.  This kind of model is more appealing nowadays given the ease (and low cost) with which one can advertise rentals on various Internet sites.

But not so fast, not in Hawaii.  In legislation that reminds be of stuff from the 1990's when businesses tried to fight Internet-driven disintermediation, Hawaii is proposing to force non-Hawaiians to use a local broker to list their rental properties.  Apparently local residents can still list their properties on low-cost Internet sites, but folks on the mainland (also known as "the United States") must use a high-cost locally licensed broker, who typically charge 50% of rental fees as a commission.  These type of commission rates are farcical - they imply that fully half the value of a one-week condominium stay is due to the broker, not the condo itself, its location, etc.  The only way brokers can charge these fees is by maintaining a tight cartel enforced by government licensing laws.

Any reasonable person will look at this law and immediately know it is about crony protection of local real estate brokers.  Of course, that is not what the law says.  It is all about "consumer protection"

The legislature also finds that requiring nonresident owners to employ a licensed professional such as a real estate broker or salesperson or a condominium hotel operator is an important consumer protection measure. Consumers who use real estate companies, real estate brokers, real estate salespersons, or condominium hotel operators for their transient accommodation rental needs can do so with the knowledge that all money generated will flow through a client trust account, the appropriate federal tax form 990s will be generated, and accurate transient accommodations taxes and general excise taxes will be paid. Real estate companies, real estate brokers, real estate salespersons, and condominium hotel operators must comply with specific licensing and bonding requirements, thus offering additional protections for consumers.

So consumer protection is defined as making sure taxes get paid and the government forms get filled out.  Because God knows my entire vacation would be ruined if Federal tax form 990 was not filled out properly.

This is total BS, and Milton Friedman called it years ago when he wrote on licensing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

This is also a great example of voters agreeing to add costs on everyone but themselves.  If the almost inevitable Constitutional concerns with this law forced in-state and out-of-state condo owners to be treated equally, local owners would immediately push back, hard, against the costs this law would impose.  Only  by structuring this law to apply to those annoying out-of-staters could it ever be passed.

I have been considering taking advantage of low prices in Hawaii to buy a condo, but I may rethink that plan given this pending legislation.

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

The whole topic of licensing as anti-consumer efforts to restrict competition is a long-running one here.   Since I am sort-of-kind-of not-blogging right now, I won't excerpt or comment on it a lot, but this is a very interesting piecelooking at internal documents of the American Dietetic Association discussing their efforts to pass laws in various states that essentially ban anyone but their members from giving diet and nutrition advice.  It is one such law in North Carolina which required that Steve Cooksey take down all his blog posts about his dieting experiences (since he is not licensed by the state, it is illegal for him to speak on the topic).

The funniest part for me in the ADA materials is that they constantly seem to be put out that their efforts to  ban competition from anyone outside of their organization are described by critics as creating a monopoly.  Who, us? Monopoly?  We are just trying to help customers.  Missing in all this, of course, is any evidence of a grass roots effort by nutrition customers.  I will remind everyone of this great Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Licensing Craziness

Seriously, it takes over $1000, 1460 hours of special education, and the passing of two tests to be a floor sanding contractor in Nevada.  This is an amazing roundup of state licensure requirements, via Reason.  Note the profession at the top of the list of requirements, which by implication is the most dangerous possible activity to customers if it is done poorly.

A reminder from Milton Friedman on professional licensing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

James Taggart is Alive and Well

In my Forbes column this week, I publish an essay I wrote for an Americans for Prosperity event commemorating Milton Friedman's birthday.  A brief excerpt:

Having once been successful through excellence, leading businesses typically get lazy and senescent, and become vulnerable to more innovative, lower-cost or more nimble new competitors.  Sears lost its electronics sales to Circuit City, which in turn succumbed to Best Buy, which is now struggling to compete with Wal-Mart, who is being challenged by Amazon.com.

Unfortunately, businesses that were once successful can feel a sense of entitlement, believing that this new competition is somehow unfair, or that consumers are somehow misguided in taking their business elsewhere.  When they have money or political connections, these businesses may run to Congress and beg for special protections against competition, or even new subsidies, mandates, stimulus projects, and bailouts.

Where is the threat to capitalism and individual liberty coming from today?  Is it from some aggrieved proletariat, or is the threat from bailed out Wall Street firms, and AIG, and GM, and Chrysler, and ethanol manufacturers, and electric car makers, and windmill builders?

 

Licensing Protects Competitors, Not Consumers

This is a long-running series on this blog, and the most recent example comes from John Stossel.

[T]he IRS plans to require paid preparers to register with the agency. Subsequently -- the timeline is not yet firm -- they will be required to pass competency tests and receive continuing professional education"¦

In a report issued Monday, the agency also raised concerns about the quality of tax-preparation software"¦

As is usual in such cases, the IRS uses some ridiculously mundane task (in this case, hair cutting) as an example of something which is licensed but its super-critical target industry is not.  This is typically supposed to be read as a justification of the extension of licensing to the new industry, though I always read it as a comment on how over-licensed we already are.

In field tests, the IRS noted Monday, tax-return preparers often gave bad advice"¦

Of course, in numerous field tests, the IRS itself often gives bad advice as well.  From MSN Money a while back:

Two decades ago, Ralph Nader's Tax Reform Research Group prepared 22 identical tax reports based on the fictional economic plight of a married couple with one child. Identical copies were submitted to 22 different IRS offices around the country.

Each office came up with an entirely different tax figure. Results varied from a refund of $811.96 recommended in Flushing, N.Y., to a tax-due figure of $52.13 demanded by the IRS office in Portland, Ore....

Physician, heal thyself.  Maybe the problem is in the tax code, not the preparers.  From the same MSN Money article:

Since 1988, Money magazine has conducted an annual study where 50 tax professionals, including attorneys and certified public accountants, have been asked to complete a tax return for a hypothetical family.

The results have been unnerving. The professional preparers come up with different results each year -- with spreads of as much as $1,000.

So let's see where we are. The IRS can't get the answers right. Neither can the professionals. That may explain why there have been U.S. Supreme Court tax cases where as many as four of the justices got the answer "wrong."

Maybe the justification has nothing to do with the quality of tax preparation.  Let's see who was happy about the IRS announcement:

H&R Block's enthusiastic response to the IRS's regulation plans suggests that the same thing will happen once the IRS licenses tax preparers:

Under the new rules, H&R Block "won't be competing against people who aren't regulated and don't have the same standards as we do," said Kathryn Fulton, senior vice president for government relations.

I will end, as I always do on this topic, with a quote from Milton Friedman:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Can We Go Back to Ignoring Naomi Klein Now?

In her wild and somewhat bizarre polemic aimed at Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein argues that major historic crises have always been manufactured by capitalists to slip free market principles into action against the wishes of the socialist-leaning masses. 

Really?  In what crisis, ever, did the government end up smaller?  What about the current crisis and the government response to it carries any good news for free marketeers?  History is a series of problems created by government intervention but blamed on the free market, which can supposedly only be solved via more government intervention.

Update:  Critique of Klein here.  Seriously, it is amazing that this rings true with anyone:

Klein's basic argument is that economic liberalization is so unpopular
that it can only win through deception or coercion. In particular, it
relies on crises. During a natural disaster, a war, or a military coup,
people are disoriented, confused, and preoccupied with their own
immediate survival, allowing regimes to liberal-ize trade, to
privatize, and to reduce public spending with little opposition.
According to Klein, "neoliberal" economists have welcomed Hurricane
Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami, the Iraq war, and the South
American military coups of the 1970s as opportunities to introduce
radical free market policies. The chief villain in her story is Milton
Friedman, the economist who did more than anyone in the 20th century to
popularize free market ideas.

As is typical, Klein confuses support for capitalism with government support of individual capitalists.

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

Whatever its stated purposes, in reality most professional licensing efforts are mostly aimed at using the power of government to limit new entrants, and thus new competitors, from a certain business:

In Alabama it is illegal to recommend shades of paint without a
license.  In Nevada it is illegal to move any large piece of furniture
for purposes of design without a license.  In fact, hundreds of people
have been prosecuted in Alabama and Nevada for practicing "interior
design" without a license.  Getting a license is no easy task,
typically requiring at least 4 years of education and 2 years of
apprenticeship. Why do we need licenses laws for interior designers?
According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) because,

Every decision an interior designer makes in one way or another affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

This hardly passes the laugh test.  Moreover as Carpenter and Ross point out in an excellent article in Regulation from which I have drawn:

In
more than 30 years of advocating for regulation, the ASID and its ilk
have yet to identify a single documented incident resulting in harm to
anyone from the unlicensed practice of interior design...These laws
simply have nothing to do with protecting the public.

As always on this topic, I end with a quote from Milton Friedman on licensing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Update:  This is timely, as 1-800-CONTACTS has informed me that due to various state and federal laws, they may not sell me the contact lenses any more that I have been purchasing from them for a year.  I must go into an office and pay a government-licensed eye doctor to get an updated prescription.  This is despite the fact that, once sized, contact lens strengths are easy to understand.  Every year or so my eyes go up by about 0.5.  I could easily get by still with my old contacts, or I could, if I wanted, self-medicate by adding 0.5 (the minimum step at my level of vision) to each eye and testing to see if this new setting was any better.  This is exactly how people buy reading glasses (or pants, or shoes), by simple trial and error in the store.  But I can't do this with my contact lenses -- or actually I do exactly this, but can only do it in a doctor's office, paying the government mandated annual toll to get my prescription updated.

Yes, I know, there are all kinds of fabulous reasons to go to the eye doctor each year, to test for glaucoma and other stuff.  But why shouldn't that be my choice?  The government doesn't force people with good vision to go to the eye doctor for such tests each year, only those of us with bad vision.  The only analogy I can come up with would be having to go to your physician each year to get your shoe size validated before you could buy shoes for the coming year.  After all, I am sure there are substantial health and safety issues with wearing poorly-fitted shoes.

Fighting the Competition, One Legislature at a Time

Thanks to an email from a reader, comes this bizarre but all-too-common tale of an industry group supporting licensing to protect itself from competition:

Imagine you were a state legislator and some folks
asked you to pass a law making it a crime to give advice about paint
colors and throw pillows without a license. And imagine they told you
that the only people qualified to place large pieces of furniture in a
room are those who have gotten a college degree in interior design,
completed a two-year apprenticeship, and passed a national licensing
exam. And by the way, it is criminally misleading for people who
practice interior design to use that term without government permission.

You might stare at them incredulously for a moment,
then look down at your calendar and say, "Oh, I get it -- April Fool!"
Right? Wrong.

These folks represent the American Society of Interior
Designers (ASID), an industry group whose members have waged a 30-year,
multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to legislate their competitors
out of business. And those absurd restrictions on advice about paint
selection, throw pillows and furniture placement represent the actual
fruits of lobbying in places like Alabama, Nevada and Illinois, where
ASID and its local affiliates have peddled their snake-oil mantra that
"Every decision an interior designer makes affects life safety and
quality of life."

Legislative analysis by a half-dozen states that
rebuffed ASID's attempts to cartelize interior design -- including
Colorado, Washington and South Carolina -- has failed to support ASID's
claim that the location of your couch or the color of your bedroom
walls is literally a matter of life and death. As the Colorado
Department of Regulatory Agencies put it, there is "no evidence of
physical or financial harm being caused to . . . consumers by the
unregulated practice of interior designers."

I am not sure this even needs comment.  I traditionally end my posts on licensing with this Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Many other posts in the same vein here

Bloggers are Tehwable

Sports columnist Stephen A. Smith fires off an over-the-top rant at bloggers:

"And when you look at the internet business, what's dangerous about it
is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their
piece to the masses. I respect the journalism industry, and the fact of
the matter is ...someone with no training should not be allowed to have
any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level
which they can. They are not trained. Not experts."

Despite its wackiness, we can still draw some useful observations:

  • Yet again, we have an industry incumbent calling for some sort of professional licensing, nominally to protect consumers, but in actuality to protect the incumbent's position in the industry.  Smith himself couldn't be more explicit about this:

"Therefore, there's a total disregard, a level of wrecklessness that
ends up being a domino effect. And the people who suffer are the common
viewers out there and, more importantly, those in the industry who
haven't been fortunate to get a radio or television deal and only rely
on the written word. And now they've been sabotaged. Not because of me.
Or like me. But because of the industry or the world has allowed the
average joe to resemble a professional without any credentials
whatsoever."

He can't even complete the sentence with the window dressing justification that this is for the consumers before he gets to the real people he is trying to protect, ie traditional media personalities like himself.  You know, trained professionals.   You could subsititute attorneys, doctors, nurses, real estate agents, funeral directors, massage therapists, hair braiders, fishing guides and any other licensed or unionized professional and find the same speech given somewhere at some time.

  • People called me crazy when I said that the next step in the media wars with bloggers was a call for licensing (and here) Whose crazy now?
  • McCain-Feingold sent us a long way down this horrible path by establishing that there are such things as "journalists" who can be trusted to speak in public before elections, and everyone else, who cannot be so trusted.  This was the first time the debate over whether bloggers are journalists turned heated, because there was a legislated cost associated with not being a journalist.
  • Note the implicit disdain for the consumer, or in this case, the viewer or reader.  The unstated assumption is that the consumer is a total idiot, a dupe who mindlessly keeps tuning in to inferior news reports from untrained bloggers rather than watching pros like Stephen A. Smith as they should be
  • Finally, and this may be unfair because I am only partially familiar with Mr. Smith's work, but I will observe that he is an African-American who brings a kind of street style to his reporting.  A style that I might guess that a crotchety sports reporter from thirty years ago might easily have defined then as unprofessional.  Mr. Smith's career has benefited in part because he has differentiated himself with new style and approach, but now he wants to slam the door on others trying to similarly bring innovation and new approaches to the sports world.  Unfortunately, all too typical of professionals of all stripes, particularly since the government has set the expectation over the last 100 years that it is open to using its coercive power to enforcing professional standards in even the most trivial of professions.

I end such a discussion, as always, with Milton Friedman:

The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Regulation is Anti-Competitive

I have frequently quote this Milton Friedman quote about regulation ostensibly being about the consumer, but in reality existing to protect one set of competitors from another:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Here is further proof, via Scott Gustafson, right here in Arizona:

Valley tattoo-parlor owners, eager to protect and burnish the reputation of their industry, are calling for state regulation of the tattoo trade. 

Shop owners have teamed up to form the Arizona Tattoo and Piercing Association, and one of the organization's first steps was to meet this week with state legislators who say they now intend to introduce legislation to regulate the tattoo industry... 

"What we heard from the tattoo industry is that they want to be more respected, and unless there is some sort of regulation, shops can exist which will give a bad name to the whole industry," Schapira said. 

He said he intends to introduce legislation to bring regulation to the tattoo industry at the upcoming session of the Legislature. 

Burton-Cahill said she considers the matter "an issue of public health."... 

"This is becoming an increasing trend with the reputable operators," said Will Humble, assistant director of the department. "The majority of the shop owners are doing things in a sanitary way but a handful is not doing everything they can. The bigger members of the industry are trying to make sure those disreputable kinds of places don't give tattooing a bad name."

Here you see it all - ostensibly aimed at the consumer, but in reality aimed at sitting on a few competitors they want out.

Chanelling Milton Friedman

For years I have tried to find the right words to express my frustration with the notion that the problems encountered with government planning and technocratic meddling was merely the fault of having the wrong humans in charge, rather than of the system itself.  For example. I wrote:

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

Well, it turns out that Milton Friedman said it better decades ago.  Megan Mcardle reminded me of this passage from Free to Choose:

The error of believing that the behavior of the social organism can be
shaped at will is widespread. It is the fundamental error of most
so-called reformers. It explains why they so often feel that the fault
lies in the man, not the "system"; that the way to solve problems is to
"turn the rascals out" and put well-meaning people in charge. It
explains why their reforms, when ostensibly achieved, so often go
astray.

Killing Entrepeneurship

Regulation is a frequent topic on this blog, and one of the points I try to make over and over is that most supposedly pro-consumer regulation is in fact put in place to protect incumbents from competition and new entrants.   It's worth repeating this Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Apparently, the NY Times has discovered the phenomenon, and argues that it is accelerating under the Bush administration.  I have no evidence to refute this claim, though I note that the NY Times offers no evidence in support of it either.

Never-the-less, it certainly is a feature of most governments to try to protect politically powerful businesses against competitors, foreign and domestic.  Basically, the entire German and French economy is built on this practice, which is why the top corporations in these countries in 1960 are still the top companies today, whereas the list has completely turned over in the US.  Our economy thrives because of entrepreneurship.  New entrants replace senescent competitors, or at least keep the pressure on them so they stay sharp and focused.

This is an enormous issue in my business.  My industry is characterized by about 4-5 larger companies that operate many recreation facilities, of which we are one, and hundreds or perhaps thousands of individual operators.  Over the last five years, the US and state governments have passes a myriad of rules and regulations that are making it virtually impossible for smaller companies to compete.  I don't know if these are being suggested by any of the larger players (they certainly aren't coming from me) but these regulations are serving the purpose of strangling smaller competitors and making it nearly impossible for new entrants to compete.

The Boston Globe's Non-Existent Ethics

I am a big fan of the Mises blog, but in this post on a Boston Globe editorial they miss something pretty substantial.  S.M. Oliva takes as a starting point this absurd editorial on the pending XM-Sirius merger:

the proposed merger of the two US satellite radio firms is premature at
best. At this point, it should be rejected. In half a decade, the two
firms have gone from barely broadcasting to throwing up their hands in
defeat. But it is hardly clear that the nation's two satellite radio
firms will wither and die unless they unite, or that a merger would
benefit consumers.

Oliva does a good job at debunking this argument, but why bother?  It is patently absurd.  How is can one possible define a market at just satellite radio?  Where have I heard this same ridiculous argument before?  Aha!  Right in the press release from the National Association of Broadcasters, the organization most threatened by satellite radio and who would benefit most if it would just go away.

When
the FCC authorized satellite radio, it specifically found that
the public
would be served best by two competitive nationwide systems. Now,

with  their stock prices at rock bottom and their business model in
disarray
because of profligate spending practices, they seek a government

bail-out to avoid competing in the marketplace.

Of course, even a combined XM-Sirius would have to compete in the marketplace -- in fact with the members of the NAB, whose asses Satellite has been kicking for a few years.

Oh, but here is the good part: the Boston Globe's parent company is a member of the NAB, owning two radio stations and 9 TV stations.  So in fact, the Globe was not editorializing in favor of the consumer, but in fact was shilling for its own trade group, working to weaken a dangerous source of new competition for its own broadcast radio and TV stations.  And nowhere in the editorial does the Globe disclose this massive conflict of interest.  Which makes this closing line a joke:

A Sirius-XM merger would snuff out competition within a potentially
lively market at a time when the technology is still evolving. And by
creating one dominant satellite radio firm, the move would likely keep
new rivals from emerging in the future.

As any economist will tell you, it is ridiculous to define satellite radio as a "market."  At its smallest, the market is reasonably "radio."  The delivery mechanism of radio (satellite vs. terrestrial) is meaningless to the definition of a market (the editorial tries to deal with this logical fallacy by creating a straw man that the market does not include iPods, when of course the main issue is that it does include terrestrial radio stations).   The Globe, along with the NAB whose talking points the Globe is just repeating in this "editorial", are in fact interested in reducing competition for themselves, not enhancing it.

Oh, and by the way, if approving a merger of broadcast or media companies is a "bail-out," then I invite the Boston Globe to calculate how much of a bail-out the Times corporation has been given, as the government has approved the merger of the NY Times, Boston Globe, IHT, 20 other papers, 9 TV stations, 2 radio stations, and 35 commercial web sites.  And by the way, what is the market share of each of their papers in their own local "markets?"

I will leave you with a quote from Milton Friedman vis a vis licensing but entirely appropriate here:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Licensing Death Spiral

Frequent readers will remember that licensing is one of my big pet peaves, so it will not surpise anyone that I enjoyed TJIC's article on the licensing "cycle of suck"

Here's the cycle of suck:

  1. a guild of professionals decides to drive up their wages by limiting the supply through accreditation
  2. to put teeth in the accreditation, they complain to the politicians
  3. politicians see a chance to scratch a back (and get theirs
    scratched in turn) and pass regulations limiting the practice of the
    profession by the non-accredited
  4. the price rises and the supply drops
  5. marginal consumers can't afford the price
  6. politicians see a chance to scratch a back (and get theirs
    scratched in turn) and use taxpayer dollars to increase the supply of a
    service"¦but just to a target consumer group

Hair braiding or delivering cows, its all the same phenomena.  As usual, I can't make a post on licensing without a quote from Milton Friedman:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

More of my posts on this topic indexed here.

Oops, Our Bad. Sorry.

I thought this was pretty funny, via TJIC.  The Fed apologizes for the Great Depression:

Ben Shalom Bernanke (born December 13, 1953)"¦ is an American
macroeconomist who is the current Chairman of the Board of Governors of
the United States Federal Reserve ("the Fed")"¦

On Milton Friedman's Ninetieth Birthday, Nov. 8, 2002 he
stated: "Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an
official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to
Milton and Rose: Regarding the Great Depression. You're right, we did
it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again.""¦

The quote is from Wikipedia, so I take it with a huge grain of salt.  Anyone have a link to another source, because the quote is pretty funny.  Good to see the government take responsibility for the economic messes it creates, even if 75 years late.  Of course, 75 years after the Hawley-Smoot tariffs helped throw a recession into the Great Depression, Congress is about to launch us down the same protectionist path, so don't give the feds too much credit.

Milton Friedman Dead at 94

Milton Friedman kept alive both the economic and philosophical basis for free markets and classical liberalism through the 60's and 70's when few others stood willing to carry the torch.  Like only a handful of other economists, he successfully went beyond pure economics to champion the link between economic liberty and all other freedoms.  But he was perhaps unique in taking this perspective to the masses, in ways that connected with the average person.  He will be missed.  In tribute, I guess I need to go out and pay for lunch today.

Update:  Tom Kirkendall, one of the best bloggers you may have never read, has a great roundup of Friedman quotes.  Also, Alex Tabarrok reminds us of this great Friedman quote:

President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask
what you can do for your country."... Neither half of that statement
expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is
worthy of the ideals of a free society.

Maintaining the Lawyer Cartel

Frequent readers of this blog will know that this quote from Milton Friedman on licensing is one of my favorites:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Ilya Somin at Volokh has an interesting post (though right this moment their site seems to be down) about the American Bar Associations (ABA) role in accrediting colleges.

To my mind, the problem goes beyond the shortcomings of specific ABA standards.
The real mistake is allowing an organization with a blatant conflict of interest
to take over the accreditation role in the first place. As an interest group
representing lawyers, the ABA has an obvious stake in limiting entry into the
profession so as to decrease the competition faced by its members. One way of
doing so is by restricting the number of accredited law schools, at least in the
vast majority of states that require all or most aspiring lawyers to attend an
ABA-accredited school in order to take the bar exam.  We would not allow an
organization run by Chrysler, GM, and Ford to set regulatory standards
determining who has the right to sell cars in the United States. Requiring ABA
accreditation for law schools is the exact equivalent in our industry....

To be completely clear, I am NOT arguing that the ABA should be prevented from
certifying schools as meeting what it considers to be appropriate standards. I
am merely suggesting that ABA accreditation should not be required by law as a
prerequisite for allowing a school's graduates to take the bar. If ABA
accreditation really is a sign of school quality, then applicants can take that
into account in making their decisions on what school to attend, just as they
currently consider US News rankings and other data. If some form of legally
mandated accreditation is needed (and I highly doubt that it is), the system
should be run by an independent agency insulated as much as possible from
control by the ABA and other interest groups representing practicing lawyers.
There should be similar insulation, by the way, from influence by established
law schools, since we too have an obvious self-interest in limiting competition
by preventing new entry into the legal education market.

Bureaucracies Never Die

A while back, I lamented all the work it takes in some states to get a liquor license.  Most liquor license laws stem back to the emergence from prohibition, when states wanted to purge organized crime from the liquor business.  What the heck, then, are they trying to do today, other than limit competition for incumbents, which is the typical role of licensing?  Before I go on, I can't help quoting Milton Friedman again about liscencing of all sorts:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Anyway, here in Arizona, it takes a load of paperwork even to change the manager of a licensed facility (even regulation-happy California does not require this).  For each manager, a multi-page application, personal history, proof of training, and fingerprint cards (yes, really) have to be submitted, and an FBI background check has to be completed (to make sure they never worked for Al Capone, I guess).

Today, I got my new managers application back from the license bureaucracy a second time for corrections.  This time, here are the two errors they found:

  • For the year when the manager was full time RVing (that means living the nomadic life with no permanent home, roaming the country in his RV) he didn't show a permanent address.  Yes, we explained his lifestyle then, but the form requires a permanent address for the last five years and can't be processed without it
  • For a period of time when the manager was unemployed, he did not fill in his own home address where it asked for his employer's address

That's it - after sitting in their hands for weeks. After already returning the application to me before with another flaw, and never mentioning these flaws.  No phone call to get the information, just rejected out of hand, requiring the whole process start over again. 

After dealing with these folks for years, it is absolutely clear to me that they have totally lost sight of what the original mission of their organization might have been, and have substituted the mission "uncompromisingly ensure the rigorous compliance with all forms and processes adopted by this organization in the past".

Lisencing eBay Sellers

I wrote before of the cost that licensing imposes on the economy.  I love Milton Friedman's take on licensing and certification:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Now, from Ohio (and via Cafe Hayek) comes this attempt to regulate auctioneers:

Besides costing $200 and posting a $50,000 bond,
the license requires a one-year apprenticeship to a licensed auctioneer, acting
as a bid-caller in 12 auctions, attending an approved auction school, passing a
written and oral exam. Failure to get a license could result in the seller being
fined up to $1,000 and jailed for a maximum of 90 days.

Keep Friedman's quote in mind.  Note that under this system, auctioneers have an automatic veto over new competition, since all potential competitors must find an existing auctioneer to take them on as an apprentice.  Imagine the consumer electronics business - "I'm sorry, you can't make or sell any DVD players until Sony or Toshiba have agreed to take you on as an intern for a year".  Yeah, I bet we'd see a lot of new electronics firms in that system - not.

It gets better, though.  The law is written in a way that it applies to Ohio residents trying to sell on eBay:

Here's the response offered by state Senator Larry
Mumper, author of the legislation: "It certainly will not apply to the casual
seller on eBay, but might apply to anyone who sells a lot," he said. "If someone buys and sells on eBay on a
regular basis as a type of business, then there is a need for
regulation."

This is the kind of regulation mentality that is killing us.  eBay has a great rating system, and while the system sometimes trips for small sellers (since they can just start a new account) but big volume competitors ruthlessly protect their reputation on eBay because it is so visible.

 

Prediction: Media Insiders Call for Liscencing

Note:  the following post grew out of an update to this post -- I have not pulled it out into its own post.

I resisted the call by a number of web sites at the beginning of the year to make predictions for 2005.  However, now I will make one:  We will soon see calls to bring a tighter licensing or credentialing system for journalists, similar to what we see for lawyers, doctors, teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians.  The proposals will be nominally justified by improving ethics or similar laudable things, but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed not at those on the inside but those on the outside.  At one time or another, teachers, massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used licensing or credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart competitors, often ones with new business models who don't have the same trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have.  As Milton Friedman said:

The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack.  Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools, despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example, kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at the 83rd percentile).  So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.

Fortunately, this effort will fail, in part because it is fighting the tide of history and in part because constitutional speech protections would probably invalidate any strong form of licensing (I wish there were similarly strong commerce protections in the Constitution).  Be careful, though, not to argue that this proposal will fail because the idea is stupid, because it can't be any more stupid than this form of licensing (or this one;  or this one).  Here are the various trade-specific licenses you need here in Scottsdale - I would hate to see the list for some place like Santa Monica.  My favorite is the one that says "An additional license is required for those firms which are going out of business."

Cost of Licensing, part III

I wrote here and here about the cost that licensing can impose on consumers, often with little measurable benefit.  It's worth repeating this Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

In this same vein, Reason has an article on the Oklahoma case where the state's requirement that casket sellers be licensed morticians was challenged legally:

Memorial Concepts Online sells an oak coffin for about $2,000, compared to an average of around $4,000 at funeral homes in Oklahoma, where the company is based. By separating the purchase of caskets from the purchase of funeral services, Memorial Concepts can offer substantial savings, not to mention a shopping environment free of hovering morticians. But in Oklahoma, which allows caskets to be sold only by licensed funeral directors, such competition is illegal.

Milton Friedman is Always Worth Reading

New, via Reason, comes this excerpt from an article by Milton Friedman:

After World War II, opinion was socialist while practice was free market; currently, opinion is free market while practice is heavily socialist. We have largely won the battle of ideas; we have succeeded in stalling the progress of socialism, but we have not succeeded in reversing its course. We are still far from bringing practice into conformity with opinion. That is the overriding non-defense task for the second Bush term. It will not be an easy task, particularly with Iraq threatening to consume Bush's political capital.

Reason links to the whole article.  I have said on a number of occasions that as a libertarian, one of the downsides of the Iraq war that does not get discussed much is that it diverted Bush II from promised market reforms, including tort reform and social security.  There appears to be some hope that these can be addressed in the second term.