Category Archives: Economic Policy

Let the people decide

taxi

In case you missed it this week, the New York Times reports that “an Uber driver admitted his involvement in a Saturday night shooting rampage” in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  NBC News likewise reports on the “eight people shot by a rampaging Uber driver”.

The press did get around to sharing other details about the deranged shooter Jason Dalton, including that he is a married father of two, was living in an ordinary neighborhood, and had no prior criminal record.

But I could not escape the media fascination with Dalton’s job, including follow-up pieces about rides given before and after the shootings and reactions from Uber officials.

Randomly perusing the links of the Gun Violence Archive, I could find no such examples of stories that led with the shooter’s chosen profession.  Instead the narratives mostly covered the incident itself, the police response, and the condition of victims.

The unstated implication is that Uber has a sinister side-effect.  Never mind that Uber has consistent real-time visibility into its drivers’ whereabouts.  Never mind that it can instantly deactivate the Uber app of any driver it suspects of wrong-doing.  Never mind that supposedly safe regular taxi drivers routinely fail Uber background checks.

I suspect Uber is suspect for something other than driver violence.  The ubiquitous ride-sharing service has become synonymous with the unregulated sharing economy.  And nothing threatens the liberal establishment more than a tool which bypasses the heavy hand of government.

For years passengers suffered from the regulated taxi monopoly.  During my pre-Uber decade in San Francisco, calling a cab was a roll of the dice.  When one did show up, the condition of the vehicle — not to mention the attitude of the driver — was shoddy at best.

Today, thanks to Uber and other ride-sharing services, I know where my ride is, when it will arrive, and who will be driving.  I can rate the driver’s performance.  After dozens of rides, I’ve rarely been disappointed.  What’s not to like?

Of course, it’s not a happy day for the taxi industry and the politicians it bankrolls at City Hall.   Desperate to preserve their turf, the incumbents are lashing out with unsubstantiated accusations that its more nimble rivals are unsafe.

There is no compelling evidence that riding in an Uber is any less safe than riding in a taxi.  And the people are voting with their apps.  Taxi rides and revenues are plummeting as consumers turn to more affordable and agreeable ride-sharing alternatives.

It’s all about consumer choice.  When you let the people decide, good things happen.  When you protect a special interest, there’s no free lunch.  Someone else is paying the price.

Productivity — which is another way of saying better products at a lower cost — cannot be compelled by government fiat.  The only reason poor value survives in an otherwise free market is restraint on more capable alternatives.

Consider the twin examples of our woeful Veterans Administration healthcare system and our generally dismal public education cabal.  Does anyone seriously doubt that these two dinosaurs would crumble if exposed to legitimate competition for patients and students, respectively?  Instead, protected by entrenched government employee unions, they continue to devour taxpayer resources without any accountability for their shortcomings.

Liberal politicians think that more aggressive taxes and regulations can unlock excessive gains of business to create a more equitable allocation of wealth.  But as every socialist experiment from Soviet Russia to modern-day Venezuela has shown, penalizing free enterprise destroys wealth, making everyone more equally poor.

Trial lawyers and labor union advocates want to rein in the sharing economy.  The only thing they’ll be preserving is one-size-fits-all lousy service.

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Filed under Economic Policy, Government Regulation

Who are you fighting for?

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Hillary Clinton officially officially launched her presidential campaign last weekend.

After plenty of analysis and calibration since her unofficial official launch via video recording in April, the Democratic frontrunner delivered an address on New York’s Roosevelt Island setting forth the theme of her campaign.  “I’m not running for some Americans, but for all Americans,” she assured the crowd. “I’ll wage and win four fights for you” — most of all a populist economic program to uplift struggling poor and middle class Americans.

The speech went on to recite a litany of liberal policy prescriptions, what commentators have interpreted as a nod to the Democratic Party’s increasingly vocal progressive wing.

If the fighter proposition represents Hillary’s long-awaited “reason to run,” then it’s worth asking how well the progressive agenda has delivered for its purported beneficiaries.

In recent months, progressives have gone to bat for raising the minimum wage, denounced proactive policing methods, and blocked the president’s bid for Trade Promotion Authority.  For his part, President Obama has taken the Supreme Court to task for threatening the viability of Obamacare.

All these positions the left portrays as salves for the downtrodden.  But who pays the bill for all this medicine?

Let’s start with the minimum wage.  It sounds good that workers should receive more pay for their labors.  Economists debate the macroeconomic impact, but one thing is for sure:  raising the wage destroys jobs at the lowest end of the wage scale.  Employers of hourly wage earners make do with fewer workers, reduce plans to expand headcount, or go out of business altogether.  Those workers remaining on the payroll get a boost, but those shut out of the workforce do worse.  What’s better for workers — low wages or no wages?

Liberal advocates (who seemingly have never had to make a payroll) like to imagine that mandated wage increases make for better, more productive employees, which compensates for the increased costs.  But if the benefits were so self-evidently compelling, it would not take the force of law to generate an increase.  Costco and other large corporations can absorb the impact, so they are happy to gain a competitive advantage while they play the role of good corporate citizens.  In contrast, small businesses, the true engines of job growth, have tighter margins and less room to give.

How about proactive policing, such as New York’s supposedly oppressive “stop-and-frisk” policies?  Under Mayor de Blasio, who pulled the plug on these measures, criminal shootings and homicides are on the rise.  The so-called “Ferguson Effect” seems to be causing police to shy away from aggressive tactics as they fear mistakes that could jeopardize their freedom, let alone their careers.  The changes are emboldening criminal elements throughout our nation’s biggest cities, destroying any hope of economic development and revival.  It’s not affecting affluent white suburbs.  Poor, minority communities of the inner city are paying the price.

Free trade?  Progressives lambast the supposed horrors trade inflicts on working men and women.  But nothing has lifted more people out of poverty than the economic growth driven by the free exchange of goods and services across borders.  Would the left be so parochial as to say job security measures stop at the water’s edge?  Putting aside the universal benefits of economic growth, free trade has a direct impact on the cost of consumer goods.  Who is most sensitive to fluctuations in the price of food, clothing, and other staples?  The people who shop at Whole Foods?  More like those roaming the aisles at Wal-Mart.

And then there’s the showpiece of the Obama presidency, the Affordable Care Act.  Far from bending the cost curve down, the ACA, with its assortment of taxes, regulations, and mandates, has made health care less affordable not more.  Yes, the most impoverished uninsured have gained premium support or access to Medicaid, but at a cost of diminished benefits and increased out-of-pocket costs for the vast majority of the population.  The result hardly comports with a commitment to fight “for all Americans.”

The list goes on and on.  Liberal environmental decrees, labor regulations, and energy policies all sound good from the ivory tower, but cut deep in the real world where people struggle to pay the bills.  In their fervor to coerce societal change, the left rarely takes account of the damage left behind.  Nothing does more good for more Americans than economic growth, and the surest way to help the most vulnerable in our society is to unshackle the economy.

Now that’s something worth fighting for.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Economic Policy, Electoral Politics

No apologies for economic liberty

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/No-apologies-for-economic-liberty-394986

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Filed under Economic Policy, Electoral Politics