Category Archives: Local

Tyranny of the Do-Gooders

In 2012 Jeffrey Dallas Gay, Jr. (age 22) died of an overdose of prescription drugs. There is little more tragic than death resulting from something so easily preventable. As a parent the instinct is strong to stamp from the face of this earth that which our child became entangled in. But just as setting a national 5 mph speed limit would be a counterproductive response to death by automobile accident, so too are the knee-jerk reaction of legislators when faced with these sorts of drug related tragedies. Senate Bill 81 was recently introduced into the Georgia General Assembly with the stated goal of trying to eliminate opioid overdoses. As with all such intrusions by the state into the lives of individuals, it leaves in its wake the collateral damage of individual lives sacrificed on the altar of the greater good.

The bill preamble first cites a scary-sounding decontextualized statistics (that roughly 30,000 die annually from opioid overdose – context: 0.008% of the US population) it then moves headlong into the “solution.” Now, if 30,000 people a year were dying because some enemy was lobbing bombs at US cities, then yes, the government should do something about that. But we aren’t dealing with an external foe, rather an internal one, ourselves. Laws on gambling, prostitution, drugs, alcohol, compulsory health insurance, etc. all share in common the well-intentioned desire to protect us from ourselves. But such laws undermine the very idea of a free nation built on individual rights. Do you sell your soul to save your life?

SB 81 purports to solve, or at least mitigate, the opioid “epidemic” by limiting first time opioid prescriptions in the state of Georgia to no more than a 5 day supply. Additionally every pharmacist is required to log all such prescriptions into a statewide database (cough, Big Brother, cough) so usage can be tracked to prevent someone buying “too much” (whatever that may be). Just as someone today can hit a wall if they try to buy “too much” Sudafed so too will the unintended consequence be that some must suffer in agonizing pain because their prescription is “too much” under the eyes of “the law.” But hey, who cares about individual suffering if we think our policy might help someone. What’s next, tracking our grocery purchases to be sure we aren’t “abusing” our bodies by buying the food that makes us less healthy and leading to higher health care costs? The greater good of “public health” would surely allow for such reasoning. Yes, laugh now, but it’s coming one day.

Of course these legislators want their cake and eat it too. The paragraph stipulating no more than a 5-day supply is quickly followed by a paragraph supporting the right of a physician to prescribe whatever they deem medically necessary. So once again politicians get to bask in the limelight of “doing something” while not actually doing anything other than adding yet another layer of bureaucracy for doctors who are already over-burdened with a mountain of regulatory paperwork they have to comply with from the local, state, and federal level.

The sad fact that no one wants to face is there no way to solve the opioid overdose problem other than getting people to follow the prescription on the bottle. And that’s not going to happen because people are people and some people just can’t follow directions. People “abuse” antibiotics as well by doing the reverse, not taking enough. This promotes antibiotic resistance. Indeed, nearly as many people (23,000) die each year due to antibiotic resistance. Why no bills designed to solve that “crisis”? Perhaps because no one is getting high off antibiotics? The desire to stamp out any possibility of artificially induced pleasure seems to be the driving force behind drug policy in this country. Anyone who needs a medication should not be made to suffer the hardship of additional hurdles just to get what they need because a handful of people can’t act responsibly. If you want to make a meaningful inroad toward ameliorating this problem, lobby the FDA to remove rules on side effect disclosures that require events with a 0.00001% chance of happening being listed. This leads to information overload and people just tune out everything. If the warning listed only actual hazards – like death from overdose – people would pay attention. Thus unintended consequence of government meddling leads to “solutions” like SB 81 which will invariably lead to more unintended consequences which can only be solved by yet more rules and legislation. The state cannot remake man through the pen. It must stop trying to do so.

Just vote “NO”

Georgia residents will see four ballot initiatives in the upcoming November 8 election. When in doubt you should almost always vote “NO” on any constitution changing ballot initiative. The overwhelming tendency is for government power to expand as personal freedom declines – and ballot initiatives generally reflect this reality. I invite the reader to review the exact wording of the initiatives as well as a more comprehensive overview of the true motivations behind them here. In brief though they follow a formulaic pattern that goes something like this: “Shall bad or disreputable thing, children, children, be fixed by implementing innocuous sounding program?” The new program is invariably a Trojan horse designed to expand the state’s purview of unaccountable authority.

Ballot Question 1 proposes to “fix” “failing” schools by allowing the state to take them over. Sounds good, right? Who could be for failing schools? What is omitted is that the entity proposing to take them over would also sets the standard of what constitutes “failing.” All it takes is a legislative tweak to the standard and suddenly all schools in the state are “failing” and require a takeover. Also omitted is that the state turns control over to private companies in a classic cronyist-fascist-public-private “partnership” model. While there is nothing wrong with private entities running schools, they should do so on their own without help from the government to gain clientele.

Ballot Question 2 is even sneakier. It tries to capitalize on widespread distaste for the sex-industry (prostitution, strip clubs, etc.) to sneak in a new layer of government. It proposes new fines and penalties (there are already fines that are quite high) for illegal activity but then slyly adds a new tax on a legal business type (strip clubs) for the express purpose of establishing yet another program to help supposed “victims” of these consensual activities. Even if you find the sex-industry distasteful, please realize they are using that distaste as a pretext to sneak in constitutional permission to impose a tax on ANY type of business to fund ANY new program (strip clubs are merely the “random” example chosen). That’s picking winners and losers. Legislators don’t like Uber? Ok, new “fee” assessed on it to fund a program to retrain cabbies that lost their job or perhaps subsidize cab companies to “help” them compete with Uber et al. That’s what this is about. It’s not about the sex trade. They just know most people will unthinkingly vote for anything that sounds like it might punish that industry.

Ballot Question 3 just gets even worse. What they don’t tell you speaks mountains. Restating without the omissions, “Shall the independent and not accountable to any branch of government Judicial Qualifications Committee (that is, can’t be influenced by those in government) be abolished and a new one be created that is populated with political appointees who owe allegiance to the very entity they are supposedly overseeing (that is, the government)” Yeah, the foxes are tired of the dog guarding the henhouse – they want a fox to guard the henhouse.

Ballot Question 4 sounds the most reasonable and straightforward; no flowery language here. The deception relies on the fact that most people have no idea how the General Assembly funds programs in Georgia. So they are duped into voting for a less efficient system than the one we already have. And as usual that deception is based on tapping into fear; fear that fireworks are harming untold thousands. So we must DO something! The thing is we already fund the programs they cite. Earmarking funds this way sounds good but in reality is less effective because there is no direct correlation between fireworks sales and public safety services. Creating a special fund means those services could be either over or under funded depending on the vagaries of such sales or the random distribution of injuries

So, to sum up, vote “NO” on all four proposals. Each is nothing more than a deceptive attempt to expand the power and influence of individuals within the state government at the expense of all the citizens.

Stepping Up to the Plate?

Slow internet. No words invoke greater apoplexy in modern man than these. Oconee County, being largely rural, has suffered through its share of less than ideal Internet connectivity over the last decade. So it is little wonder that county officials recently engaged representatives of Corning Optical Communications to discuss the possibility of wiring the entire county for fiber optic Internet access. As a resident myself, nothing would please me more. However, as an ethically consistent human being, I cannot opt to ignore a little thing like theft even when that theft might benefit me personally.

Inroads to high speed Internet have been slow not because of capriciousness but rather due to simple economics. Investments are made only if the prospect of a meaningful return is sufficient to compensate for the risk involved. What would you say if someone asked you to invest your retirement savings into a project that might yield a payback of less than 1% after 75 years? If you’re unwilling to make such a poor investment, then who can blame the telecoms for reaching the same conclusion. Capital intensive projects like running underground cables for miles and miles only to serve a handful of customers just don’t make economic sense unless those customers are willing to pay hundreds of dollars a month. And since nobody is willing to pay that, it doesn’t happen. Local governments don’t help either as various right-of-way statutes heap unnecessary costs on the process (see OCGA §46-5-1(a) and 48-5-423).

In the meeting, according to the Oconee Enterprise, Administrative Officer Jeff Benko observed that, “…in areas where the private sector has not stepped up to the plate, there’s an opportunity for the government to intervene.” In other words, where my parents have not stepped up to the plate by buying me a Ferrari, there’s an opportunity for my bank-robbing uncle to buy one on my behalf. “Stepping up to the plate” is the economic equivalent of providing something at a false cost because no one is wiling to pay its true cost.

This project was estimated to run about $1400/home served. If everyone voluntarily wrote a $1400 check that would be grand. It would be true democracy, marketplace democracy, in action. Consumers vote their preference every time they open their wallet. But we live with a political democracy as well, so as long as 51 out of 100 people want something, then it’s perfectly acceptable to reach into their neighbor’s wallet and take what is needed. Some might suggest paying for it with bonds is ethically sound as someone is voluntarily lending money to the county. But that logic is specious insofar as the bond must eventually be repaid and the only way to do so is with taxes and as we all know, taxes are theft. Indeed bonds are even more cowardly as they shift the repayment burden onto future taxpayers who have no voice in what is decided today.

Repeat after me: just because it is something I want, that does not make it is ok to use political means to force others to provide it for me.

The Unseen (Septic)

What does a septic tank have to teach us about economics? This rather mundane bit of technology is at the center of depressingly familiar story figuratively brewing in my backyard. It’s not my septic tank that is the issue, but rather one literally just down the street from me in the small town of Bishop, GA. Bishop residents Blyth and Diana Biggs purchased the “Fambrough House” on the main thoroughfare (Hwy 441) with the intention of residing there and turning it into the first ever restaurant in Bishop. They were on target to open in August 2014 when they hit a snag, well, more of a massive pothole, on the road of entrepreneurship. It seems the Oconee County Health Department is going to require them to rip out their current septic system and install a commercial grade unit to the tune of a mere $75,000. Why? Well, ‘cause regulations say so. And we all know that regulations are infallible because the mantra “one size fits all” has never ever resulted in unintended consequences. Suffice it to say, when I saw their post about this last year on Facebook, all I had to read was “We’ve run into a bit of a problem…” and I instantly knew what the source of their problem was – the state. Nothing will throw cold water faster on the dreams of an entrepreneur than a byzantine labyrinth of irrational regulations.

So, to return to the original question, what does a septic tank teach us about economics? In this case it reminds us of the central lesson of Frédéric Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy – unseen effects must also be brought to account when analyzing economic outcomes. In this case, a restaurant that never opens would be an “unseen” effect of a gross misapplication of this particular regulation.

Regulations are an economic good. They provide a benefit, but like all economic goods they have a cost. However, when economic goods are forcibly imposed their cost no longer bears any relationship to the true demand (and hence price) for them. For example, some people like aquariums, but not everyone does. If the government made a law that required all households to have an aquarium, this would naturally shift the demand pattern from partial to universal. From this universal demand we would then witness an elevated price (Econ 101: as demand increases so does price). In the same way an artificially increased demand for regulation drives up the costs for those regulations. The price of these imposed regulations operates in a vacuum, uninfluenced by any other considerations that might compel one to balance their costs with other equally important considerations. For example, if the owners were not compelled by the threat of violence to keep their doors shut they would then be able to freely weigh the costs of opening with a potentially undersized septic vs. the costs of a delayed opening. All things being equal, absent state imposition of these regulations, we would find that demand, and hence price, for septic installation would be lower. This leads to the rather ironic outcome that in the absence of state mandated regulations many places like the Bishop House would actually be more likely to make these such changes owing to their lower costs).

But, if the Bishop House is unable to open due to this artificially imposed barrier, then we will all be the poorer for it, for what is wealth if not the betterment of our lives by the voluntary actions of fellow human beings? Every person barred from adding his own unique contribution to society by artificial barriers (the economic interventionism of regulations, licensing and employment law) erected by the state makes all of society that much poorer.

P.S. If you would like to learn more about The Bishop House or help them please see http://www.gofundme.com/fo1klc

Pool your own resources

It seems everyone wants a pool. But nobody wants to pay for it, because after all pools are really expensive – both to build and maintain. When I moved into my current neighborhood we were “promised” it would have a pool by the real estate agent and the builder. Our HOA dues were inflated owing to the necessity of maintaining this incipient pool. It was not to be. A mixture of the housing bust and and builder antics sealed the fate of the “free” pool. Now that our neighborhood is about 95% occupied there is increasing pressure for “we the neighbors” to build one ourselves via a self-assessed HOA dues increase. When we moved in my children were at the prime “pool” age, however they are nearly grown (college already?!?) and so we have little interest in footing the bill for something we would almost never use. But, we moved in here voluntarily, fully aware that pool expenses would be part of the deal so I have no ethical basis for complaint, merely a pragmatic one. If I don’t like it, I can, as they say, move.

That option, moving, however, does not exist moving up one territorial notch to the county level. Every county in the US pretty much operates the same way. I recently read that a swimming pool has been the number one recreational request in my county (Oconee) for many years. I find this fascinating on several levels. For one it flies in the face of the oft given justifications for government, that is, courts, cops, roads and schools. Surely government must provide these absolutely essential functions, no? Well, no, but for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point right now. However, I find it laughable that recreational amenities now too fall into the category of “essential state functions. Really? That brings me to my second wry observation: Oconee County already has a private provider of pools and gymnasiums (another common request). So, it’s not that people want access to a pool per se, (clearly there is already “access” locally), it’s that they want someone else to foot the lion share of the bill. Getting the county to provide these things means that when you utilize them a disproportionate burden of the cost is shifted to (a) all those with a higher property value than yours and (b) all those that use it less than you do. Subsidization, pure and simple. Not very conservative for a supposedly conservative county?

There is a common misconception that we need a county government to provide these sorts of things because governments can lower the cost for everyone because they don’t extract any evil profit. But think about what that means for a minute. Profit is the increase in subjective value realized when one takes a pile of resources and alters them into a more pleasing arrangement (think raw ingredients —> apple pie). If there is a decrease in satisfaction (think Ferrari melted down to make pie plates) that would be a loss. So when one argues that if a private business were providing access to a park or a pool it would be “too expensive” but that government can “make it affordable” what you’re really saying is that highly valued resources (private pool) should be rearranged into something that is of lower value (public pool). Because that is exactly what happens when money is taken from a property tax payer A to offset the cost of pool access for property tax payer B. Payer A’s funds were diverted from whatever he would have spent them on (high value to him) to something of lower value, that is, something he never would have spent them on, a pool. To argue this is “ok” is to argue that theft is justified in order to provide essential human rights like park and pool access. As they say, first world problems.

So to all those in the county that want a pool I would offer this bit of advice: put your money where your mouth is and join the private pool already here so that it can grow and expand in relation to the demand for its services, or, if you believe you can do a better job then come together voluntarily and risk your own capital (not mine) by building one yourself. I would offer similar advice to the pool proponents in my neighborhood. “Pool” your resources, buy a lot, build the pool and run it for profit. Only with a profit/loss test can anyone know if that would be a wise redirection of capital. There is no better method of plumbing the depth of a man’s belief than to ask him to risk his own capital.

The Silent Majority

If one is a believer in the democracy and voting, then this demands at a minimum a respect for the concept of a quorum, that is, a minimum level of participation of those members (citizens) eligible to vote. Although the US constitution does not provide any specific requirements for a quorum with regards to voting by citizens, it does provide some insight into the minds of the founding fathers with respect to the importance of voter participation. Specifically, the 12th Amendment states that a quorum of at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives should be present if they are called upon to decide a presidential election (when the electoral college produces a tie). Given that voter turnout has never exceeded 67% in a presidential election it could be argued that none of our elected representatives are “legitimate”. Voter turnout in presidential election years hovers around 60% and 40% in off years. Therefore, 40-60% of the population found all options so distasteful they chose to abstain from casting a ballot. In other words, at last at the national or state level, no elected official has ever received majority support of those citizens eligible to vote. This inconvenient truth is ignored for the simple fact that were it respected it would be impossible for those “in power” to govern at any level greater than city council (and even that is in question). To truly respect the wishes of those not voting requires either providing a NOTA option on all ballots or to assume a tally of a vote for NOTA for each person not voting (NOTA= None Of The Above).

To the apathetic voter then I say take heed of the power you hold. If those of you who do not vote do so because you believe it won’t make a difference, then the fact that your constituency is 60% of the population should tell you otherwise. If you are tired of the status quo of the left and right wings of the officially sanctioned State Party – the party that stays in power no matter who “wins”, then seize this opportunity and vote Libertarian this election. Now I could write a book about why Libertarians are the better choice, but honestly, how could it be any worse? The two party duopoly has given us nothing but a soul crushing welfare-warfare state liberally sprinkled with either economic or civil rights violations. At least the libertarians are ideologically in alignment with the majority of Americans. That is to say, when people are polled on issues rather than candidates, they overwhelming choose libertarian positions (“I can’t believe this is instant coffee!”) Yes libertarians are the Folgers of politics. Try them, you’ll be surprised how much you like them.

In Georgia we have several libertarians running at the state level: Andrew Hunt for Governor, Amanda Swafford for Senate, Ted Metz for Insurance Commissioner. Some have tried to pin the “spoiler” label on them claiming that since no libertarian has ever won a high level office they have no chance and thus should not even bother. That’s a great message – if it’s never been done before then that means it can’t be done. Of course an actual election “spoiler” is someone who draws votes away from one or more candidates and thus alters the outcome of the election. But, since Georgia employs a run-off system it is mathematically impossible for additional candidates to play the role of spoiler; the top two vote getters (assuming no one got more than 50%) compete head to head in a run off. Some have said that third party candidates just waste public money by forcing expensive run-off elections. Well whose fault is that? Citizens exercising their constitutional right to run for elected office or lazy legislatures that refuse to implement Instant Runoff Voting. IRV not only eliminates additional costs with run off elections but it also negates the distasteful practice of “strategic” voting found in plurality voting. Such strategic voting only serves to further marginalize third party candidates so it’s hardly surprising why Republicans or Democrats would never promote such a system.

So to all of those in Georgia that have sat on the sidelines, now is your opportunity to send a message to our oligopolic status quo rulers: vote Libertarian and show the country that the “impossible” is possible. Vote Folgers.

Oconee Liquor Referendum: A Vote Less Traveled

“Shall the governing authority of Oconee County be authorized to issue licenses to sell distilled spirits for beverage purposes by the drink, such sales to be for consumption only on the premises?”

 

This is a difficult question for the principled libertarian. It’s a bit like asking the antebellum electorate whether a law requiring slave-owners to not separate families should be passed. Obviously that would be an improvement but the very asking implies consent with the legitimacy of the immoral institution of slavery. Likewise allowing business owners slightly more flexibility in what they are permitted to offer to their voluntary, paying customers is a step in the right direction. But, one must also recognize that such approval implies acquiescence to the right of existence of a “governing authority” that can by decree or popular vote dictate what some people may or may not do with their own justly acquired private property within the invisible lines that define this particular segment of planet Earth as Oconee county. Ethically no such “governing authority” should exist.

To understand why this is so consider the following: People of different religious beliefs can all live side by side in the same community without any (well almost) desire to force their neighbor to conform to their particular set of beliefs. But when those beliefs are secular in nature suddenly it makes perfect sense that the beliefs of the majority are the ones that should govern not merely that majority, but all who live amongst that majority and within an arbitrary boundary. There is no logical basis as to why one type of belief should be respected and another type ignored when it comes to majoritarian impositions on one’s neighbors.

If you don’t want to imbibe a real tequila based margarita, then don’t, but you have no more of a right to tell someone else that they cannot than does an old school Catholic have the right to tell you that you can’t eat meat on Fridays or the Jew to tell you that you must power down all electrical devices for the Sabbath. Indeed it is curious that one extreme segment of the Christian community is so vociferous in their opposition to this referendum. Setting aside the ecclesiastical distortions that lead some to the opinion that alcohol is evil; there is no evidence Jesus ever said his teachings were best enforced by state decree. Following His word willingly is the only gift we can give Him. But a gift given under duress is no gift at all. Such laws rob others of the opportunity to make that willing gift. But, I digress.

Although on the one hand most Americans will espouse support for the ideas of liberty, respecting the rights of the individual and generally minding our own business, when they go into the voting booth those same Americans will engage in a process that is the antithesis of those concepts. Consequentialism, utilitarianism, call it what you will, but that is the thought process that drives many. Rights are important, but if people exercise the right to do X then that might result in Y, therefore WE can’t allow this. The ends justify the means and our rights are trimmed on the altar of Might Be. Recognizing possible deleterious scenarios and working to minimize them is fine – as long as the methods employed do not resort to aggression, that is, the initiation of violence against another. That is what law, ordinances and licenses are – implied aggression. Implied aggression becomes actual aggression if the ordinance or license is ignored.

“But without ordinances and licenses there would be chaos” is the usual rejoinder. No, there would not be chaos. There would simply be a different outcome. Different does not equal chaos. Chaos is simply code for “not the outcome I personally want to see.” But the individual is not powerless to prevent that which they fear in a world of voluntary societies free of coercive “governing authorities”. If you don’t want to see certain kinds of businesses or land use patterns within a certain distance from your residence then you can join like-minded people and put your money where your mouth is. Buy up all the land around you, and then you are free to decide how it is used. If that is too expensive then this is society’ way of telling you that it values other uses for that land more highly than you value it for the purpose you desire. Who are you to argue with society? After all, the people have spoken.

The Voting Games

We are now less than two months from Election Day and the usual furor over voting has moved from low simmer to boil. Wisconsin’s voter ID law was reinstated last week setting off the usual liberal chorus about limiting votes. And in our own back yard, Georgia Republicans are chiming in to their own refrain about too much voting. It seems Dekalb County will now have Sunday voting. The Republicans have taken a perplexingly tone-deaf stance on this issue. Their oppositional argument amounts to: Sunday voting enables more minorities to vote, minorities don’t vote Republican, so this is bad. If the Republicans had any kind of political savvy they would come out in full support of Sunday voting and in fact should one-up the Democrats by supporting Saturday voting as well. It may come as a shock to some, but most people work on Tuesday (the traditional voting day). Perhaps, just perhaps, voting should occur on the day (or days) that maximizes the availability of the majority of the population. If Republicans truly are the friend of business they purport to be, then they would support weekend voting since weekday voting is invariably disruptive to business operations.

On one thing though the Republicans have a point (although not the one they intended nor the one they are being skewered for). Georgia Senator Fran Millar stated “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.” He is of course using the term “educated” in the sense of specific knowledge about the candidates or issues even though his opponents would like to frame his comment to imply minorities voters are simply “uneducated” in a broader sense.

I agree with Senator Millar – the voters should know whom they are voting for and why – and toward that end I propose that in order to be compliant with state law regarding campaigning near a polling place, that all notations of party affiliation be stricken from the ballot during a general election. That means no more “D” or “R” or even “I” (incumbent) next to names. These notations are a form of campaigning insofar as it achieves the same effect that campaigning would: the transmission of information to the voter about a candidate, even if in broad terms. If a voter cannot be bothered to know the name of their candidate, then they truly have no business voting. Such voters are muddling the process with noise and diminishing the voice of those that did take the time to become educated. Imagine the outcome of a vote on the best baseball player if 70% of the people voting know absolutely nothing about baseball? How valid do you imagine those results would be?

With respect to Voter ID laws I have never understood the controversy. In every other organization that uses voting as a means of decision making (clubs, unions, corporations, etc) no one would ever think of allowing someone to vote without first validating that they are indeed a member of said group. Why does this generally accepted principal vanish when it comes to voting in elections of the state? If you are a “member” (i.e. citizen) of the state, then show your membership card (this by the way is the only legitimate place a state can ask its citizens for ID). Why are some so concerned with the rights of others that those others apparently hold in low regard (seeing as how they can’t be bothered to exert even the minimal effort needed to obtain a voter ID card)?

Some argue that little evidence exists of voter fraud involving non-citizens or double voting so why bother checking ID. That argument is specious; it’s parallel would be the operation of a business with unlocked doors and no cashiers because that business determined its shoplifting problem exists only to the extent they occasionally happen to witness someone shoplifting. As the Russians say, “trust, but verify.”

So maybe we can reach consensus here, if we can agree that only citizens should vote, then it follows that once proving one’s citizenship, the form, manner, timing or location of said vote casting is immaterial.

Where’s the harm?

If you’re anything like me you’ve likely always had a strange sense when buying a car that something wasn’t quite right, a sort of tingly spidey-sense that that you were the punch line to an inside joke. New car dealerships are a fraternity unto themselves. But unlike college fraternities, they work hard to keep newcomers from joining their ranks. The Internet has done much to reveal what the exclusive walls of membership formerly protected. It is not just information that has been freed, but also new modes of doing business. But last week we learned the lengths that these old school fraternities will go to in order to fight change and retain the power structure of their very unique cartel (cartel – get it?). The Georgia Auto Dealers Association filed a complaint last week  with the Georgia Department of Revenue claiming that Tesla Motors (a manufacturer of high performance, all electric cars) should be barred from selling any of their vehicles in Georgia because Tesla apparently violated some byzantine state statute that limited manufacturer owned auto outlets from selling more than 150 cars in a year. Tesla sold 173. Yes, I know, what monsters. Off with their heads.

Whether or not Tesla actually sold more than 150 is immaterial. The fact that such a law exists brings into shocking relief the ends to which automobile dealers in the state of Georgia (and indeed many other states, Georgia is sadly not alone) will go to in order to protect their own financial self-interests. Of course protectionist fervor is not how the dealers spin this. They claim they are only trying to protect the public (what selfless servants they are). Without independent dealers, manufacturers would be able to set strict non-negotiable prices, ignore warranties, and otherwise cause the marketplace to collapse into a top-down manufacturer driven oligopoly (according to a bit of NADA propaganda). So clearly in order to protect competition we must limit competition.

What these manufacturers fail to realize is that were these fascist, depression-era laws repealed it would not result in the overnight demise of the independent dealers. Rather it would mean dealers would have to compete with manufacturer outlets on price, service, or quality. Likewise the manufacturers would have to compete in precisely the same manner. At the end of the day the manufacturers don’t really care how their cars are sold, they just want them sold. If independent dealers can offer a manufacturer the ability to sell its cars more efficiently than that manufacturer can sell them (dealerships are a large capital investment after all), then they’re going to choose the cheaper, and thus more profitable route.

In short, the dealers are afraid of competition. And I don’t necessarily blame them. Who wouldn’t love to have one’s ability to earn a living protected by state sanctioned violence? Who wouldn’t love a system that created an artificially high barrier to market entry in order to keep out newcomers with new ideas that might otherwise eat into your 1940’s business model. But cartels, syndicates and state protected oligopolies are not consistent with the principals of liberty; namely that unless I’m using violence or the threat of violence to influence your actions, then you have no right to interfere in my actions irrespective of whether or not you believe it may “harm” you in the future. All competition “harms” another (whether it be economic, social or sport). But the “harm” of competition has a beneficial silver lining. It compels one to work harder, to do better and thus benefit the consumer and themselves in the long run. But if possible “harm” to someone becomes the litmus test for state intervention then I dare say we all belong in jail.

I hate Paypal

I really hate Paypal. It is astonishing that a company a mere 16 years old could so quickly devolve into a lumbering bureaucratic beast that is indistinguishable from a government agency. As the consumer/buyer I have no qualms with Paypal; sending money to people or companies is more or less a painless experience. However, when the roles are reversed and I’m the one receiving funds, well, they are less “pal” and more “foe.” Allow me to explain: My company, Seachem Laboratories, has used Paypal for many years to process credit card payments. Their fees are generally lower and their electronic data integration not too terrible. But something has changed in the last few years. We have quite a number of overseas accounts and it would seem that once you start processing charges for such accounts you become the financial equivalent of dead Nigerian potentates and Viagra merchants in their eyes. They suddenly develop a keen interest in the inner workings of your business. They want to know what you do, what you sell, and (for a few “select” transaction involving overseas customers) every few months they request detailed copies of invoices, bills of lading and proofs of delivery. Mind you this is not in response to a complaint from anyone. No one is claiming they didn’t get their product. No one is claiming their card was stolen. They just do it because some misguided bureaucrats at Paypal thinks “not-US” = “criminal enterprise”, therefore all things in any way linked to “not-US” must be subjected to absurdly intrusive levels of scrutiny that would make IRS audits look tame by comparison.

So these requests came up once before and I complied, because (a) they freeze your account so you can’t withdraw funds and (b) I assumed it would just be a one-time event. It wasn’t. It happened again this past week (hence this rant). This time I told them I would not be complying with their silly requests and that perhaps they should consider the amount of charge volume we move through them when they considered my request to cancel their request, unfreeze our funds, and never subject us to this garbage again. They didn’t budge. They don’t care. I was told I would have to 180 days to get the company’s money if I wasn’t going to be supplying them with the laundry list of requested information. So much for valuing the customer.

Now at this point most people would be thinking, “that’s unfair, they can’t freeze your funds absent an accusation of fraud, the government should do something about that!” And to be quite honest I understand the sentiment. But it’s not very empowering thinking “well maybe those folks called government might fix this mess in a few years.” What is much more empowering is realizing you are always in control. I can tell Paypal to pound sand. I do not have to comply with their edicts. Yes waiting 6 months to get the money is an inconvenience, but one that is well worth the gratification of refusing to comply. You always have a choice. Or at least you do when dealing with a private business. If you’re dealing with the government you don’t have that choice; you either comply or face prison or worse.

Why do we have no choice when it comes to government? Because the state declares a monopoly on governance, thereby eliminating all competition in the services provided by said monopoly government. Without competition we end up with entities run as poorly as Paypal but which will never improve because there is no incentive for them to do so. Paypal has competitors. Paypal eventually must change or it too will perish (just witness the ashes of AOL’s internet monopoly). The state allows no competition. It’s power forever ratchets upward, untouched by the counterbalancing force of free competition. Voting is no proxy for competition; it is the false choice of two doors that both open on the same room.