Category Archives: Monopolies

Our Exalted Fearless Leader Almost Gets It

Obama is not a dumb man. He understands that government provisioning generally produces a worse service than private organizations which are dependent on people choosing to patronize them.

Here he is pointing out that while Fedex is required by law to charge higher prices than the Post Office for equivalent services, it is the Post Office which struggles and requires constant taxpayer bailout.

Like Amtrak, USPS, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, any publicly funded insurance company will struggle to contain costs as it encourages overconsumption.

I’ve long argued that the real reason that medical care is so expensive is that the government limits supply and subsidizes demand.

The Obama administration, in choosing to ignore the limits on supply placed by government, is embarking on a program that is doomed to fail to meet any of the publicly stated goals.

It’s too bad that Mr Obama is unwilling to follow the evidence to its inevitable, logical conclusion.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Public Schools and the Public Option

Imagine a private school where students sat in a math class for weeks misbehaving and learning nothing. Imagine that school gets on TV news because the administrators suspended the young lady who blew the whistle by taking a cell phone video and giving it to her mom who confronted them. Do you think that school would have enough students to start the next school year?

Well, this happened at a public high school in the SF Bay Area:

A freshman at Clayton Valley High School in Concord, California says that’s just what she had to endure in algebra as her classmates went wild.

“People smoking marijuana in the classroom. They smoke cigarettes.” Arielle said. “There was one kid who peed in a bottle and threw it across the room.”

Clayton Valley High School is a public high school, and I have no doubt that it will open with just as many students next year as it did this year. When parents pay for an education, they absolutely will not tolerate a school run like Clayton Valley HS. When the state provides an education for free, a vast majority of parents will generally take what they can get and call it good enough. They might picket and protest for improvement, but they won’t take their kids out of the school.

What does this have to do with health care? The public option being created as part of “ObamaCare” is rather similar to public schools, in that it is designed to undercut private health insurance on the basis of price:

The Lewin Group crunched the numbers through their health care model and found that premiums for the public option plan would be 30 to 40 percent lower than private plans.

A price difference of that magnitude would lead employers to throw their employees into the ObamaCare option:

Overall, the Lewin Group estimates that if Medicare reimbursement rates are imposed, the number of Americans with private health insurance would decline by almost 120 million, leaving only 50 million Americans in the private insurance market.

That would leave approximately 15% of the population in non-government health care, just slightly more than the percentage of students that go to private school. At that point, ObamaCare will have similar monopoly power to the public schools. I expect abuses and incompetence similar to that captured by Arielle Moore at Clayton Valley High when the public option achieves its monopoly power. The scary difference is that instead of not learning algebra, the people who have to suffer that abuse and incompetence will be missing out on life-saving medical treatments.

A human life is too important to waste on government health care.

Update: John Calfee compares ObamaCare to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the WSJ. Yet another sterling example of how we don’t want our health care managed.

Education Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

Kevin Drum recounts a tale of a specific charter school that has had excellent results. He unwittingly makes a good argument for school choice:

In a nutshell, this story explains pretty well why I like charter schools [snip] So I say: fine. If there are some parents who want their kids to go to schools like this, let ‘em.

It makes sense to try out different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids and different kinds of neighborhoods. With a few obvious caveats, I’m all for it. But let’s not pretend that any particular one of these charters is necessarily the model for everyone else on the basis of 18 cherry-picked graduates. It ain’t so.

Well, given that he was marginally quoting someone else’s strawman, I’ll let his aside about pretending that any one of these is “necessarily the model for everyone else”. As far as I can tell, most libertarians and most advocates of vouchers don’t think that there’s a one-size-fits-all model.

And Kevin Drum, from these comments, doesn’t seem to think that there’s a one-size-fits-all model.

But the education bureaucracy seems to want to put everyone into a one-size-fits-all model.

Most reasonable collectivists I know are honestly more concerned with making education work than making it uniform. To some extent, they view things as charter schools as laboratories to test new educational methods, which can then be integrated into “regular” public schools. But they forget that there’s an enormous entrenched bureaucracy that is adamantly opposed to doing anything outside of what is best for the unions.

I agree with Kevin Drum that it makes sense to try out different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids and different kinds of neighborhoods. But where I suspect we disagree is in the assumption that the educational bureaucracy will EVER allow charter schools to do this in any meaningful way. They have too much stake in controlling the debate, and charter schools allow the debate to slip out of their grasp.

The only way to fix education is to offer real choice. Allow parents the ability to make the choice where to send their kids on a real widespread basis, not limited by geography or a tiny number of charter schools with far too many applicants for slots. And the only realistic way that I can see to achieve real choice, given the landscape as it currently sits, is through vouchers.

Education is not one-size-fits-all. We need to stop pretending that we can make it so*.
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Obama’s Policy to Fight Mexican Drug Cartels is Doomed to Fail

The Obama administration, rather than dealing with the root cause of the violence along the Mexican border, has decided to adopt a policy to deal with the symptoms. The problem is that this policy will neither alleviate the symptoms nor come close to treating the problem.

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration promised Tuesday to help Mexico fight its drug war by cutting off the cartels’ supply of guns and profits, while resisting the Texas governor’s call for a troop surge at the border to ward off spillover violence.

Let’s assume for a moment that Obama’s policy to prevent Mexico bound firearms from leaving the U.S. 100% successful. Given the fact that the drug cartels can acquire firearms from other sources (such as corrupt Mexican government agents with access to firearms among other sources) the only difference would be that the firearms are no longer coming from the U.S.

The Obama administration correctly identifies that the drug cartels are so powerful because of the profitability of the illicit drug trade. It’s this ability to make enormous profits, particularly in an impoverished country as Mexico, that attracts players into the business and makes corruption on the part of government officials almost irresistible. Unfortunately, though the Obama administration has identified the profitability of the drug trade as the source of the drug cartels’ power, there is clearly a profound misunderstanding of the way basic economics work (as if the bailouts, handouts, and myriad of other government programs were not proof enough).

The steps announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – 450 federal agents shifted to border duty, supplied with dogs trained to detect both drugs and cash, and scanners to check vehicles and railcars heading into Mexico – amount to a subtle but important shift:

The blockade of contraband will now be a two-way effort. The fence begun under the Bush administration will be completed, to deter smugglers of drugs and workers. But the new emphasis will be on disrupting the southbound flow of profits and weapons that fuel the cartels.

At his televised news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that for now, it’s more important to disrupt the cartels’ access to profits and weapons than to fortify the border with soldiers.

“That’s what makes them so dangerous,” he said. “The steps that we’ve taken are designed to make sure that the border communities in the United States are protected and you’re not seeing a spillover of violence. … If the steps that we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more.”

So what’s wrong with this approach? The basic economic law of supply and demand tells us that whenever a product is in high demand (drugs in this case) and the supply is lower (in this case by successful drug interdiction by the U.S. governemnt), those who supply the given demand stand to profit more NOT LESS! Whether Obama’s policy results in a decrease in the supply of drugs of 1% or 99%, those drugs which do make it to the end customer will pay even more to get them.

I would even go as far as to say that the Mexican drug cartels would cheer this policy. Sure, the cartels might have more difficulty moving their product into the U.S. and their profit and firearms out of the U.S. but for the most clever smugglers, these enhanced drug interdiction efforts would filter out the competition! (And we know how black market operators hate competition).

On some level, I do believe that even the political class understand this but somewhere, there is a disconnect. Just yesterday in her visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the war on (some) drugs over the past 30+ years “has not worked.”

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade.”

And now the disconnect:

“Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians…”

Mrs. Clinton apparently recognizes how the war on (some) drugs has been an abject failure fails to realize that the Chosen One’s policies will do little to reverse this trend. If she truly wants to do something productive, something has to be done about what she (correctly) describes as this “insatiable demand” for these drugs. She seems to understand that the “Just say No” campaign didn’t work but does she and others within the Obama administration really believe that more drug hysteria PSA’s will do anything to curb this demand?

Given how the Obama administration has decided to deal with the drug war related violence along the border, I’m not optimistic. If spending billions of dollars annually on this insane war on (some) drugs which has contributed to leading the world in the number of people in prison (imprisoning 1 out of every 100 adults; more than half of the U.S. prison population is there because of drug related offenses) has failed to curb the demand, then perhaps it’s time to try a different approach.

Nothing short of legalizing the drug trade will stop the violence, so why does the politicos, law enforcement, and government bureaucrats at almost every level continue the same “get tough” policy which clearly has not worked? The only conclusion I can come to: they must be high.

Note To Orrin Hatch — 13-0 May Be A Travesty, But It’s Not Congress’ Business

Orrin Hatch is undoubtedly merely responding to his constituents’ demands with this nonsense. The Utah Utes finished 13-0 last season, with notable wins over Michigan, Oregon State, ranked teams TCU and BYU, and a BCS bowl defeat of Alabama. It’s a pretty impressive resume. They were the only undefeated team in Div I-A (FBS). But they’re not the Champion. Florida, who finished 13-1 (with their sole loss being to Mississippi) is the Champion.

I understand the complaint. If a mid-major team like Utah can have the season they’ve had, beat the teams they beat, and still fall behind a one-loss school from a “major” conference, then no mid-major will ever be crowned Champion. Granted, Florida may have been the best team in college football (as the Patriots were the best team in the NFL in ’07-8 despite not winning Super Bowl XLII), but I don’t think the system for determining a Champion is very fair.

It’s not a system I like. It’s also not a system that Orrin Hatch likes, but he’s sticking the full power of the federal government into the debate:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may be a skinny guy with a high voice. But he’s angrily setting out to tackle the biggest powers in college football, vowing to pound them until they reform the Bowl Championship Series.

He called them out Wednesday, as he and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc. — respectively the top Republican and Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust — released a list of topics that panel plans to consider this year.

A bit buried on Page 4 of an eight-page list, amid somewhat sleep-inducing reading on oil and railroad antitrust, is a nifty paragraph about the BCS.

“The BCS system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year,” their joint statement says.

Then it drops its first unexpected bomb: “The subcommittee will hold hearings to investigate these issues.”

That is followed by a second: “Sen. Hatch will introduce legislation to rectify this situation.”

I realize that Congress believes it has purview over everything that occurs within our borders, but if their “fixes” for other problems are anywhere near as effective as this one will be, I’m not sure anyone will want to watch college football afterwards. I really wish they’d waste their time ruining something else, because I quite enjoy spending fall Saturdays watching one of the few worthwhile sports left.

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