Life, Liberty and Oligopoly for All!

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: the protection of these rights is the bedrock upon which any legitimate government is founded (if such an oxymoron is possible). However, apparently somewhere along the way “oligopoly” was added to the list of inalienable rights. To wit, the latest example of such protectionist behavior was filed in the Georgia House of Representatives on February 5. A bill (HB907) was introduced that would expand the onerous taxicab and limousine regulations in order that they encompass the activities of internet based ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. For those unfamiliar with these services, they use a smartphone app based system to connect people that need transportation with those willing to provide it. Like the Internet it is peer-to-peer interaction with the host company merely maintaining the communication backend. It is a lean and efficient system that translates lower operational overhead into lower consumer costs. All drivers undergo a background check and vehicle inspection before they can sign up. To weed out both undesirable drivers as well as passengers these services employ a self-regulating Ebay-style reputation/feedback system.

These services are faster, often cheaper and can quickly respond to increases in demand, so it should come as no surprise that they’ve been having an impact on the bottom line of the traditional taxi services – many of which still don’t even accept credit cards in the cab. Taxi companies don’t like competition. So what do they do? Do they turn to government and ask “Why don’t you remove all your burdensome regulations so we too can operate more efficiently and at lower costs?” No. Instead they demand that if they must drag a 100-lb boulder everywhere they go, then so too must everyone else. In reality they never would ask for regulations to be repealed. Many had a hand in crafting them. These regulations artificially suppress the supply of service (oligopoly) so as to maintain elevated prices. As an industry, taxis operate nationwide under a byzantine set of rules that permit the local government (and often competitors as well) to determine, in their sole discretion, the precise perfect quantity of taxis needed in their jurisdiction. Once that is determined, taxi owners are allowed to purchase from the government that quintessential symbol of their “public necessity” role – the taxi medallion. The medallion is nothing more than a glorified business license, albeit an artificially limited license. To imagine how limiting the quantity of licenses issued for a service might affect prices paid by the consumer, imagine if, say, another occupation that is also bizarrely licensed by the state – barbers – (really? we really need government to ensure we get a good haircut?) were restricted to just one barber per town. Sure that one barber earns more, but everyone else loses. In the same way, the taxis that already have their medallion stand to benefit by using government to artificially limit who can participate in the taxi market.

When discussing this bill in public the taxi companies are not foolish enough to divulge it’s all about protecting their oligopolistic profits; no, they claim, (as do all politicians looking for an excuse to control our lives), it is about “public safety.” Yes, because clearly when someone is paying you for a lift you lose all ability to competently operate an automobile. Cars function completely differently when a paying passenger is in them as opposed to a non-paying passenger. Yes, how stupid of me to not realize this fact.

It’s a good thing we have government, otherwise how else would we be protected from the evils of innovative businesses attempting to compete with ossified fascist oligopolies.