Posts tagged ‘Regulation’

The Regulation Singularity

Yesterday, I came home exhausted.  I have been working late nearly every night for weeks, at a time of year when most of my business is not even open yet (the business is seasonal).  I realized to my immense depression that I have been spending all my time on regulatory compliance.  I have not been pitching new clients or bidding on new prospects or making investments or improving our customer service processes -- though I have ideas for all of these.  I have been 100% dedicated through 14 hour days to just trying to keep up with and adapt to changing government rules.

Break rules, changing minimum wages, heat stress plans, mandatory sexual harassment training, OSHA reporting, EEO reporting, Census reporting, and most recently changing rules on salaried workers that Obama just waived his wand and imposed -- this is what has been consuming me.  I have been trying to roll out a new safety program to the field and can't do it because I keep having to train for one of these new requirements (one learns there is only a limited number of things one can simultaneously roll out to front-line staff).

At some point regulation will accrete so fast that it will be impossible to keep up.  I am going to call that the Regulation Singularity, and for businesses my size, we are fast approaching it.

Prominent libertarian think tanks often rank state business climate by their tax regimes.  I am all for low, sensibly-structured taxes.  But for most of my time, taxes are irrelevant.  We are shutting down businesses left and right in California and it has zero to do with taxes.

Even the Feds Give Up Under The Weight of Regulation

Many on the Left often deride the notion that government regulation really affects business behavior and reduces business activity.  But it turns out that even the Feds themselves throw up their hands and give up in the face of trying to deal with their own regulations

Government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country. Taxpayers own them, and even vacant, they’re expensive. The Office of Management and Budget believes these buildings could be costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year.

…But doing something with these buildings is a complicated job. It turns out that the federal government does not know what it owns.

…even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit it from doing so. No federal agency can sell anything unless it’s uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.

Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn’t want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see if it could be used as a homeless shelter.

Many agencies just lock the doors and say forget it.

Government Regulation and Incumbent Business Protection

Scratch "consumer" protection laws and you will almost always find the laws are really aimed a protecting incumbent businesses and traditional business models.  This time from France:

To the surprise of virtually everyone in France, the government has just passed a law requiring car services like Uber to wait 15 minutes before picking up passengers. The bill is designed to help regular taxi drivers, who feel threatened by recently-introduced companies like Uber, SnapCar and LeCab. Cabbies in the Gallic nation require formidable time and expense to get their permits and see the new services -- which lack such onerous requirements -- as direct competitors.

This is the interesting political ground where the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party have a lot of overlap.  That is why the Chamber of Commerce, which represents all these incumbent businesses, is working with both parties to keep the cozy corporatists in power against challenges from the Left and Right.  If you are a business owner, eschew the Chamber and join the NFIB and support the IJ.

Note Who Gets Exempted From This Regulation

The Feds are going to require seat belts on buses:

Beginning in November 2016, all new motorcoaches and some other large buses must be equipped by manufacturers with three-point lap-shoulder belts, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Ahh, but there is an exemption

The rule doesn’t apply to school buses or city transit buses.

What do these two exempted categories have in common:  They mostly belong to governments (public schools or public transit agencies).  So the government comes up with an expensive new regulation, but exempts itself from it, applying it to only private operators (who own a minority of buses in the country).

The Next Step in Regulation Madness

So, what is the next danger to the Republic that requires coercive government control to protect us all from disaster?  Pedicabs:

Operating a pedicab used to be cheap and easy. A person could make a buck with little or no overhead and without restrictive, burdensome regulations.

That’s no longer true in some Valley cities that have approved ordinances limiting who can operate pedicabs on their streets. Scottsdale is the latest to tighten its rules, joining Phoenix and Glendale. No other Valley municipality regulates pedicabs.

To continue doing business in Scottsdale, pedicab operators must have a valid Arizona driver’s license, maintain insurance and adhere to regulations pertaining to the safety and visibility of the pedicab. The ordinance, which became law on May 9, includes penalties for non-compliance but does not specify any inspections.

Phoenix’s ordinance, which went into effect in August 2008, was in response to concerns and complaints from downtown stakeholders and patrons regarding pedicab activity, city spokeswoman Sina Matthes said. The ordinance is stricter than Scottsdale’s, requiring Police Department inspections and inspection tags.

Glendale’s ordinance, which became law in late 2007, requires a city-issued license and limits the hours of operation and what roads can be used by operators, said Sgt. Jay O’Neill of the Glendale Police Department.

Why the regulation.  What safety disaster led to this?  Well, apparently some poor pedicab operator allowed himself to be hit by a drunk driver.

Scottsdale’s ordinance was prompted by a Jan. 4 crash involving a suspected drunken driver and a pedicab trailer on Scottsdale Road near Rose Lane. The two pedicab passengers suffered serious head and spine injuries.

Scottsdale police determined that there were no mechanical or safety violations.

Here is some government cluelessness:  it is OK if we rape you as long as we ask for your feedback first

In Scottsdale, operators must maintain at all times a commercial general-liability insurance policy of at least $1 million per occurrence and $2 million annual aggregate.

Jay Ewing Jr., owner and operator of Big Papa Human Powered Transportation, said four people have asked him if he wanted to purchase their equipment because they are going out of business in connection with the Scottsdale regulations. He says a pedicab operator can expect to pay at least $250 a month for insurance....

Scottsdale police Cmdr. Jeff Walther said the transition has gone smoothly because all operators were made aware of the proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide input before the regulations were approved by the council.

“I was surprised, my folks were surprised, that almost immediately there seemed to be a pretty dramatic decline in operators,” Walther said.

Regulation and Innovation

Google has a pilot to offer TV and high-speed Internet service in Kansas City.  Adding phone service would have cost them practically nothing, and presumably would have provided great value to its customers.  But it gave up because even for a company as large as Google, the regulatory start-up burdens were too large.  Many innovative new industries or new approaches to old industries have been started literally in someone's garage.  But no one with a better idea for local telephone service is ever going to make progress against these kinds of regulatory barriers.  Which is exactly what the large incumbents want, and why they secretly support these massive regulatory infrastructures (while publicly whining about them).

Land Use Regulation and Income Inequality

I don't have time to comment or peruse the study in depth, but this looks interesting.  From Randal O'Toole:

Harvard economists have proven one of the major theses of American Nightmare, which is that land-use regulation is a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States. By restricting labor mobility, the economists say, such regulation has played a “central role” in income disparities.

When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.” Postrel refers to these well-educated people as “elites,” but I simply call them “middle class.”

I have not read the study, but I think the word "proven" in the first sentence likely goes to far.  Economic systems are way too complex to absolutely show one variable among millions causes another.  I am convinced that the way we have regulated the housing market and promoted home ownership has reduced labor mobility.

Health Care Trojan Horse for Government Micro-Regulation of Individual Choices

Don't say I have not been warning you.  For years.  Philip Klein via Peter Suderman:

...Bloomberg highlighted a comment from a supporter of the [soda] ban, who wrote, "Anyone who pays taxes and thus bears the health care costs of obesity should support this."

In a free society, individuals are able to take risks and make decisions detrimental to their own well-being -- be it smoking, drinking, excessive eating or anything else -- because they'll bear the ultimate costs of their decisions. But when government assumes a greater role in the health care system, suddenly there's a societal cost to individual risks. This provides an opening for those who believe in a paternalistic role for government to make their regulations seem pragmatic. Bloomberg used the "health care costs to taxpayers" argument during his previous drives to ban smoking in bars and restaurants and to outlaw the use of trans fats.

Wherein I Actually Advocate Regulation and the Precautionary Principle

Can we please make sure no one is able to put an AI into this thing.   We definitely don't want it to become self-aware.

Markets vs. Regulation

My Forbes article is up this week and uses my company's vendors to compare the power of markets vs. government regulation.  A small excerpt:

I am assuming that many readers will have already spotted what these three vendors have in common:  all are either highly-regulated government-enforced monopolies (in the case of liquor wholesaling and electric power) or government agencies themselves.   As a consumer, I get the worst deal from my vendors in direct proportion to how heavily regulated they are.

Regulation By Market

Best Buy is apparently increasing its customer return window from 14 days to 30 days.

Why?  This certainly costs them money, not just from lost revenue but from the cost of restocking and returning to the manufacture (not to mention fraud).

Are they doing this because they are good guys?  Hah.  Do you really expect goodwill out of an electronic retailer?

They did it because they felt they had to.  As the top dog in dedicated electronics stores, they are constantly under competitive assault.  They are the reference point competitors start from.  Wal-mart attacks them on price.  Amazon.com attacks them on price and convenience.  Smaller retailers attack them on knowledge and integration services.  Everyone attacks them on the niche details like return policies.

Best Buy did this not because they wanted to, but because they felt they had to under competitive pressure.  The accountability enforced by the market works faster, on more relevant variables, and far more powerfully than government regulation.

When the government does regulate variables such as this, such regulation often actually blunts the full accountability of the market.  Retail laws in many European countries set maximum hours and discount levels, protecting large retailers like Best Buy from upstarts trying to provide a better of different service.

When Consumer Regulation is Anti-Consumer

Frequently, so-called consumer regulation is coopted by large corporations to limit the ways competitors can try to unseat them.  For example, limo services will get laws passed that all limos have to have certain features.  Ostensibly, this is so consumers will be protected from having a limo without a wet bar, or whatever, but in fact its to prevent upstart competitors from taking them on with a different kind of business model potentially using different kinds of vehicles.

I find that this is frequently the case with regulated utilities.  Utilities are able to get all kinds of crazy laws passed to protect business practices that would never survive the marketplace.  Just today I was trying to open a business account with Duck River Electric in Tennessee.  We are attempting to reopen a TVA campground that has been closed for several years.  The campground is tiny, so I was flabberghasted when the utility told me that we had to put down a permanent deposit of $4100.  I found this to be shockingly high.  Apparently, it is based on the highest two months demand in the highest year (several years ago) in history.  Since the campground is only open for five months, it means that we have to give the utility an indefinite interest free loan equal to half the annual business we do with them.

This is simply insane.  Name one reasonably competitive business where one has to put down anywhere near this kind of advanced deposit to become a regular customer.  If there was any sort of competition in this business, the sales people for the other company would have a field day with this.  Sure, vendors often do a credit check on us, and a very few times (mostly early in our history) we had to pay COD for orders.  But this is absurd.

PS-  The only vendors we work with that are even close to this for abusiveness are the state authorities from whom we buy fishing licenses for resale.  Many of these agencies require expensive payment bonds not required by any of our other (private) vendors.  Arizona Game and Fish even forces us in January to accept an inventory of many products we do not sell (e.g. hunting stamps) and cannot sell by the terms of our lease.  We have to keep these in the safe for a year and if we lose any and are unable to return them at the end of the year, we have to pay for them.  Imagine Amazon.com sent you a bunch of crap you did not want and required you to hold them for a year, and then pay the expenses of returning them, and then pay for any item you might have lost.   Anyone like myself who was dumb enough to fall into the Columbia House records thing will know the danger of this.

Great Moments in Regulation

After over three years of effort, and many, many checks written to numerous departments, Ventura County has granted us the right to operate a fuel tank at a particular location near Lake Piru, CA.  This is actually a huge improvement, and will be much safer and less liable to create a spill than the current methods of schlepping around zillions of 5-gallon cans in a pickup truck.

However, we still have not, after 3 years of trying, obtained a permit from self-same Ventura County to install said tank.  So it is currently legal for us to own, posses, and operate a fuel tank at the permitted location but still illegal for us to install one there.

The tank we purchased 3-years ago in the naive hope all this permitting could be done in a month or two will probably be rusted out by the time we can actually install it.

Bank Regulation

This article by Mark Perry seems right to me -- the lightest touch (and probably the most effective) approach to bank regulation is to return to a regime that puts its major emphasis on capital requirements.

We can talk all day about causes of the recent financial crisis, but in my mind the root cause was taking real property with a volatile underlying value (e.g. homes) and leveraging the absolute crap out of it.   In the initial transaction, home buyers were allowed to come to the table with less and less equity, until deals were being cut with more than 100% debt.  This stupidity was a true public-private partnership, as the government kicked off the party and encouraged its growth via various community development policies as well as policies atFannie and Freddie, but private originators as well as home buyers eagerly jumped into the fray.

This debt backed by property that was already too highly leveraged was thrown into portfolios that were themselves highly leveraged, and then further leveraged again through CDS's and other derivatives.  And then the CDS's were put into leveraged portfolios.  I would love to figure out the effective leverage in the AIG portfolio.  For ever $1 million in real property that secured the mortgages they insured, how much equity did they have?  A thousand bucks?  Less?

These investors felt protected by diversification that didn't really exist.  The felt safe with AAA ratings from agencies who really didn't understand the risks any better than anyone else did.  They relaxed assuming everything was watched by government regulators who were in way over their heads.  But more than anything, they felt protected by history.  The system of putting mortgage risks into tranches, such that the top tranches could only be affected by default rates consider then to be wildly improbable, had never to that point failed to deliver its promise.   Default rates had always stayed withing expected norms.

And this is the most dangerous risk -- the risk that something will happen that has never happened before.  Default rates that seemed impossible suddenly became reality.  Tranches that were untouchable suddenly were losing large chunks of their value.  Sure, there were warning signs, but at the end of the day what happened was that events occurred that were worse than people had thought was the worst case scenario  (there is a whole body of interesting behavioral study on how humans tend to overestimate their understanding and underestimate the width of a probability distribution).

As new financial products are created and the economy evolves and the government pursues new forms of interventions in commerce, new failures can occur that have never happened before.  And never has there been invented a micro-regulatory approach that guards against new-type failures (they don't even do a very good job against old-style failures).  Capital requirements are the one approach that guard against catastrophic failures even for unanticipated risks.

It can be argued that this will raise the cost of capital, at it is true interest rates at any one point of time would have to go up.  But one can argue that the low interest rates of the 2000's greatly understated the true cost of capital, and that those additional costs were paid in a sort of balloon payment at the end of the decade.

I am still thinking this through -- I don't think any regular reader would be mistake me for someone who favors regulation in general, but I am coming around to some extent on the notion that banks are different.  I would ideally like to see a self-policing market where companies that choose to cut equity too fine just go bankrupt.  But the reality of the political-financial complex today is that this never happens -- costs of large failures are socialized, and executives who made bad choices get fat gold parachutes and Treasury jobs.

Postscript:  I have arguments all the time about whether the financial melt down was mainly caused by government or private action.  Was it a public or private failure.?  My answer is yes.

One thing that those of us who promote private action over public can never repeat enough is this:  Our support for private action does not mean that private actors don't screw up, that there are not bad outcomes, that people don't make bad decisions, etc.  They do.  Lots of them.  When these constitute outright fraud, there should be prosecution.  For the rest of the cases, though, libertarians believe that in a free society there are automatic corrections and sources of accountability.

Make a bad product - people stop buying it.  Sign a union contract with wages that are too high - you go bankrupt.  Treat your workers shabbily - and the best of them go work for someone else.  Take on too much risk - you will fail and lose all your capital.

The problem with our financial sector is not that it is not regulated -- it is the most regulated sector of the economy.   The problem is that, as always happens, there has been substantial regulatory capture.  There has been an implicit deal cut by large financial institutions - regulate me, but in return protect me.  In a sense, as is typical in a corporate state, large corporations and government have become partners.

As a result, many of the typical checks and balances on private action in a free economy have been disrupted.  In effect, certain institutions became too big to fail, and costs of failure and risk taking were socialized.

That is why the answer is not one or the other.  Certainly the massive failures were driven by the actions of private actors.  But they were driven in part by incentives put in place by the government, and their stupid behavior was not checked because traditional private avenues of accountability had been neutered by the government.    This is why the recent financial crisis will always remain a sort of political Rorschach test, where folks of wildly different political philosophies can all find justification for their position.

More Great Moments in Regulation

Today's episode -- the shut down of the new debt market

Ford Motor Co.'s financing arm pulled plans to issue new debt, the first casualty of a bond market thrown into turmoil by the financial overhaul signed into law Wednesday.

Market participants said the auto maker pulled a recent deal, backed by packages of auto loans, because it was unable to use credit ratings in its offering documents, a legal requirement for such sales. The company declined to comment.

The nation's dominant ratings firms have in recent days refused to allow their ratings to be used in bond registration statements. The firms, including Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings, fear they will be exposed to new liability created by the Dodd-Frank law.

The law says that the ratings firms can be held legally liable for the quality of their ratings. In response, the firms yanked their consent to use the ratings, hoping for a reprieve from the Securities and Exchange Commission or Congress. The trouble is that asset-backed bonds are required by law to include ratings in official documents.

The result has been a shutdown of the market for asset-backed securities, a $1.4 trillion market that only recently clawed its way back to health after being nearly shuttered by the financial crisis.

The Power of Regulation

John Stossel has this chart to clearly define the power that is OSHA regulation:

Wow, that sure makes a big difference.  Which confirms my experience as a business owner.  Financial incentives like workers comp rates are a FAR more powerful force, at least in my business, to root our safety issues than the arcane and bureaucratic mandates that flow out of OSHA.

The Argument for More Regulation

I am confused by the recent argument for more financial regulation.  The argument seems to go that because Goldman Sachs may have committed fraud, then we need more laws making more things illegal.  But Goldman Sachs is accused of breaking existing laws.  Isn't that just an argument to enforce the laws we already have?  In fact, the government so far is stopping short of its full power to go after Goldman over the Abacus securities -- its seems like they would have a criminal fraud case but at the moment they are settling for a civil action.  In a sense, the government is not using against Goldman all the power it already has.

Of course, a cynical person could argue that the government has no real desire to go after Goldman, who after all is pretty deeply in bed with this Administration, and is pulling its punches in a show trial that will end up with Goldman fined .01% of its quarterly profit but with the Administration looking tough to fuzzy-headed voters and with Congress having something it can wave around to distract people while it passes another 1400 page bill no one has read.

Regulation Gone Mad

I am importing a fairly expensive art clock from Germany.  It hit Fedex in Memphis yesterday, then apparently hit a snag.  The US government demands that certain data on imported clocks be submitted to them before it can clear customs.  Fedex had to pay someone for about half an hour of work (to track me down, interview me on the phone, and submit the paperwork) so that this critical data could be submitted to the Feds:

CLOCK-WORKSHEET2

I kid you not.  This would be one of the dumbest things I have seen from the government had it not been for the egg licenses I have to hold.  This data was probably critical for some program pushed through by a Senator to protect some business in his district that does not even exist any more.  I wonder if anyone in the government even remembers why this data is so vital (seriously, per question 11, how many wind-up clocks are coming through customs nowadays).  Probably part of a program to protect America's essential capacity to manufacture clock movements over 12mm in thickness.

Regulation Is Almost Always Anti-Competitive

Continuing with a long-running theme here at Coyote Blog, here is another example of government regulation being anti-competitive and having the net result of protecting the margins of powerful, established incumbents against new entrants:

During a recent meeting, the Antiplanner was extolling the virtues of Houston's land-use policies, and a home builder at the meeting said, "Of course, no one here wants our city to be like Houston," meaning no one wanted Houston's land-use regime.

Why not? I asked. "There is too much competition down there. My company can't make a profit," he said. "You have to have some barriers to entry to be able to make money."

Those who accuse free marketeers of being supporters of big business don't realize that big businesses (and often smaller businesses) don't want a free market. In this home builder's case, he wanted enough restrictions on the market to keep out some of his competitors (most likely smaller companies that can't afford to hire lawyers and planners for every project) but not enough regulation to keep his company out

Several years ago my company had to obtain a liquor license in Shasta Country, CA. At one point, the issuance of the license had to be voted on by some group (County commissioners, the planning board, something like that). I was told the reason was that if they issued too many licenses, I would not be able to make money -- really, they were looking after me.

Well, not really.  First, the government seldom has any idea even how a business works.  Perhaps the liquor was a loss leader for my business, and I didn't care to make money on it at all.  Perhaps I had a better marketing concept.

And herein we get to the real flaw -- the implication is that somehow the dangers is to the new entrant in a crowded marketplace, but in fact the reality is often the opposite.   The actual competitive danger is often to incumbents, fat and happy with the status quo and unable to react quickly (due to all kinds of reasons from sunk investment to long held biases) to shifts in customer preferences.  No matter what their stated reason, the true effect of such regulation is to protect current competitors from new entrants, new products, and new business concepts.

I can see the effects of this right here where I am sitting, out near the end of Cape Cod.  Zoning and business regulation here is enormously aggressive - its is virtually impossible to start a new retail establishment here, particularly on virgin land.  As a result, every store and restaurant here feels like it is right out of the 1950s.  You'd hardly know there has been a revolution in retail or service delivery over the past few decades, because businesses here are sheltered from new entrants.  They don't need to adopt better practices or provide better products or services, because they know they are not vulnerable (courtesy of the government) to competitive attacks from new entrants using more modern strategies.

This is a Feature of Nearly All Regulation

Via Overlawyered:

Sponsored by Congress' most senior member, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), HR 759 amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to include provisions governing food safety. The bill provides for an accreditation system for food facilities, and would require written food safety plans and hazard analyses for any facilities that manufacture, process, pack, transport or hold food in the United States.

It also calls for country of origin labeling and science-based minimum standards for harvesting fruits and vegetables, as well as establishing a risk-based inspection schedule for food facilities. "¦

The [Cornucopia] institute claims the preventative measures [on handling of food on farms] are designed with large-scale producers and processors in mind and "would likely put smaller and organic producers at an economic and competitive disadvantage."

You hear this all the time from proponents of certain regulations -- "even _____ corporation supports it."  GE supports global warming regulation.  Large health care companies support heath care regulation.  The list goes on forever.  That is because regulation always aids the large established companies over smaller companies and future upstart competitors.  Larger companies have the scale to spread compliance investments over larger sales volumes, and the political muscle to lobby Congress to tilt regulation in their favor (e.g. current cap-and-trade lobbying in Congress).  Regulation creates a barrier to entry for potential new competitors as well.

I hate to admit it, but regulation in my own business (which I neither sought nor supported) has killed off many of my smaller competitors and vastly improved our company's competitive position.  It is no accident that the list of the largest companies in heavily-regulated Europe nearly never change, decade after decade, whereas the American list has always seen substantial turnover.

Regulation as Incumbent Protection

This is a great example of a point I often make about regulation aiding incumbents and large companies against smaller companies and upstarts.  From the DC Examiner, via Radley Balko

Philip Morris, openly and without qualification, backs Kennedy's and Waxman's bills to heighten regulation of tobacco.

Philip Morris stands to benefit from this regulation in many ways. First, all regulation adds to overhead, and thus falls more heavily on smaller firms. Second, restrictions on advertising help Philip Morris' Marlboro, a brand everyone already knows, by keeping lesser-known brands in the shadows. (Existing restrictions on advertising have already helped Philip Morris in this regard, with an added benefit spelled out in Altria's annual report: "Marketing and selling expenses were lower, reflecting regulatory restrictions on advertising and promotion activities. "¦ ")

Finally, if the bill passes and the FDA gets added control over the industry, Philip Morris, more than any of its competitors, will have access to those bureaucrats and agency heads making the decisions. For all these reasons, RJ Reynolds and other tobacco companies oppose the bills Kennedy and Waxman are pushing.

Free Markets, Not Pro-Business

Timothy Carney has a really interesting deconstruction of the US Chamber of Commerce agenda, and it is a good reminder of the forces at work pushing this country towards a corporate state (similar to France and Germany).  When large corporations lobby via the Chamber of Commerce, it is apparently not for low taxes and free markets, but rather targeted interventions and subsidies.  The article does not have a money quote I could find, but this should give you an idea of what the author discovered in the Chamber of Commerce rankings of Congressmen:

On the House side, it's a similar picture. The Republican with the lowest Chamber score was [Ron] Paul.   Even Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, who wants to regulate everything except Fannie Mae, scored 14 points higher than Paul on the Chamber's scorecard.

Suffice it to say a ranking system that has folks like Ron Paul last is not based on free markets and small government.  Apparently, the Chamber marks down Congressmen who did not vote for all the bailout and stimulus packages, did not vote for various alternative energy subsidies, and did not vote to expand college loan subsidies.

The victor of almost any new regulation or licensing program is typically incumbents, and particularly large incumbents.  In my own business, there have been a series of new government regulations added over the years, with the effect that an industry formerly dominated by hundreds of ma and pa operators has consolidated to barely four or five players.  No one else can afford the compliance costs.  Licensing is almost always incumbent protection, and the government even frequently turns over the approval process for new entrants to the current incumbents (e.g. medicine and law).  And subsidies are almost by definition support incumbents over potential new entrants.

Postscript: In terms of incumbent protection, keep an eye on carbon permits.  There will be a ton of pressure to give free or discounted permits to current incumbents, as was done in Europe.  This would be a huge structural barrier to competition, as incumbents can service their current market share for free but new entrants (or expansions of existing entrants) will require expensive new permits.

Absurd Regulation

I found out today, the hard way, that Arizona has a law specifying exactly how a pool contract is to be paid for a pool construction or renovation job.  Yes, we sure would not want to leave it to individual choice and negotiation to determine contract terms.  The craziest part is that I am required, by law, to pay 100% of the cost of the job to the pool contractor before the gunite or finish coat of the pool is shot.  In other words, I must pay all of the contracted price before the job is complete with no hold back.

This is absolutely crazy.  I have never in my life not had a hold-back in a construction contract.  Three times  (all with my company) I have had contractors go bankrupt or disappear before the job is complete, in at least two cases leaving so much work unfinished that even the hold-back was not enough to cover the loss.   Typically, contractors bolt before the punch list is complete, and only the hold-back keeps them focused at all on finishing the job to my satisfaction.  I am not happy, particularly since Phoenix pool contractors are going bankrupt right and left in this economy.

This is yet another example where "regulation" in fact means "in the tank for favored industries that make campaign contributions."

Great Comment on our "Unregulated Free Market"

Michael Smith comments over at EconTalk on a comment by one Mark K (via Cafe Hayek)

Mark K wrote:

These jokers on Wall Street, who according to Russ made "˜innovative' products like credit default swaps, showed us unregulated free market capitalism in all its glory.

The notion that we have an "unregulated free market" is false.

If we had an unregulated free market, the organizations and individuals that made stupid investment decisions -- those "jokers on Wall Street" -- would now be bankrupt, to be replaced by more competent organizations and managers. Instead, under the current system, they are "bailed out" -- at your expense -- and allowed to continue operating.

If we had an unregulated free market, the investment rating agencies that rated securities containing subprime loans as "AAA" would be disgraced, bankrupt and out of business -- no one on earth would deal with them any longer -- they wouldn't be able to pay people to use their services. Instead, under our current system, not only are all those rating services still in business, the S.E.C. requires that all issuers of investments use those rating agencies.

If we had an unregulated free market, no one would be forcing bankers to make riskier loans than they wish to, as is currently done by legislation such as the Community Reinvestment Act and threats of lawsuits from organizations like ACORN and from the Federal Government"˜s Justice Department (Clinton"˜s DOJ filed 13 major lawsuits against banks for failure to lend to "minorities").

If we had an unregulated free market, there would be no central banking entity in charge of a fiat money supply with the ability to:

a) Make vast amounts of credit available at below-market interest rates.

b) Follow such a persistent policy of inflation as to convince virtually everyone in the country that purchasing a house is "a good investment".

c) Eliminate ( or at least significantly reduce) risk aversion by guaranteeing bankers that they (the Fed) will always be there as "lender of last resort".

d) Condone and make possible a preposterously over-leveraged fractional reserve banking system under which banks currently hold total reserves of only about 4% and are thus extremely vulnerable to any sort of a run or loss of confidence in the bank.

If we had an unregulated free market there would be no quasi-government entities like Fannie and Freddie and the FHA to insure that trillions of dollars of that cheap credit made possible by the Fed was directed into the residential housing market, producing an unsustainable boom in housing construction, which, when it ends, leads inevitably into an economic bust.

If we had an unregulated free market, the Federal Government would not now be contemplating looting the American taxpayers of another trillion dollars or so to pay off various special interests that helped the latest collection of looters get into power.

We don't have an unregulated free market. We have a "mixed economy", with a few elements of capitalism struggling under the weight of literally thousands of pages of rules and regulations and dozens of government agencies interfering in virtually every aspect of our economic lives.

And under this set-up, it is you, the "little guy", the individual who doesn't have a powerful lobby in Washington to get the rules bent in your favor -- you, who cannot command an audience with Congress to beg for your personal bailout -- you, who can do nothing as government uses your funds to save the incompetent and the dishonest from the consequences of their own actions -- it is you who gets screwed.

We don't have an unregulated free market; we have an out-of-control government intent on looting us blind.

Government Licensing = Incumbent Protection

I have written on this topic quite a bit, but via Cato comes another great example of how licensing and regulation, while promoted as consumer protections, much more frequently are incumbent protection against new competitors.  Cato has a video of some folks in Oregon who started a moving business, only to find that sate law effectively requires them to get permission of current moving companies before they can operate  (apparently, someone in Oregon is enamored of medieval guild systems).

How the law works is that when a new mover submits his application for a business license, existing movers can file an objection (which apparently is pro forma).  The new company must then justify to the state why another moving company is justified by the marketplace.  Of course, absolutely no guidance is given how such a thing might be proven.

I would have found this unbelievable, had not my company faced the exact same requirement in another context.  In Shasta County, California, we wanted a liquor license to sell beer at the store we run at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park.  We were told that we could not have a license until we had proven to the County that there was enough demand for another liquor outlet.  It was for our protection, they told me -- we wouldn't want you to get in a situation where you might fail.

I have written about liquor licensing before - if ever there was a regulatory regime whose time was long past, this is it.  The extensive fingerprinting and background checks one must go through to get a license are outdated remnants of a concern for the return of organized crime, a problem that was obviated by legalization  (so that, as usual, the government regulatory regime to fix a problem was instituted at the same moment the problem went away).  Now, the liquor licensing process is used as a club by existing competitors to keep new entrants out.  My bet is that organized crime is now on the other side of the fence, using the liquor licensing process to hammer honest competitors.  And if you really want to see abuse, read the whole Rack 'N Roll saga by Radley Balko.

I bet you are just overcome with suspense wondering if we got our license.  In Shasta County, we eventually succeeded, mainly because the store was in a gated park with an entrance fee, and we could make the argument that competition did not really cross the gates of the park.  Years later, we lost a similar battle in Lake Havasu City, AZ, where a group of local business people have really organized the town to their benefit and use every tool they can, from zoning to licensing, to keep competitors out.