Wednesday, February 14, 2007
How Not to Promote Capitalism, Part 3002
An article at TCS Daily attempts to defend the idea of congestion pricing (i.e., the use of new technology to make government-owned highways into toll roads that can charge variable rates). As an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, I would certainly have no problems with a private company setting up its own method of charging its customers. After all, in a truly free economy, an owner may do with his business as he sees fit, including charging rates so exorbitant or maintaining his property so poorly that he goes out of business.
But what I do have a problem with is alleged defenders of capitalism who concede not just the moral premise of socialism, but leave popular myths about capitalism completely unchallenged, as Joseph Giglio does. (And for bonus points, he calls a Texas government agency a "corporate body", further obliterating the distinction between government and industry.)
The advent of Electronic Toll Collection technology changed all this. Now we can charge motorists for using roadways without forcing them to stop at toll-booths, or even slow down. Just as consumers are billed for water, electric power, cooking gas, and other essential utilities, motorists pay according to how many miles they travel, how large a vehicle they're driving, how much air pollution they generate, and whether they're subject to certain physical or economic disadvantages that entitle them to special discounts. This can be especially important for commercial vehicles where time saved translates into fewer operating costs. And let's remember that the main purpose of surface transportation is to facilitate and enhance economic activity. [Except for the ability of the owners to do with their own property as they see fit? --ed]Not only does this scheme take for granted that someone in the business of running a highway is there to serve the public rather than make a profit and would have no incentive to do a good job or to keep prices down, but it also makes the gullible assumption that politicians after votes and with guns in their hands will allow such a scheme to exist for very long. After all, don't oil companies "overcharge" the public they are meant to serve? Why not take this "windfall" and use it to "keep our highways 'free'"?
Some corporate [sic] bodies like the Texas Department of Transportation have already started to work out a few of the most obvious kinks. That is, without any competition to hold down prices, the natural instinct of the enterprise's private owners would be to charge motorists the highest possible rates while providing the least amount of service.
So, the answer is to introduce a competing agenda - namely, the one represented by the same state and local governments that are going to be getting the federal government's funding windfall. They're not interested in maximizing profits, but in winning votes by providing lots of service while keeping user charges as low as possible. .... [bold added]
The case for people paying for their own transportation cannot be made in a moral vacuum. We should pay to drive on privately-owned and operated highways for exactly the same reason that we should not be taxed to support public highways: government interference in the economy is a violation of individual rights.
Until more people accept this idea, the motoring public will continue looking for "free" roads at the expense of others, and politicians like Hillary Clinton will continue getting away with destroying the profit motive for our most important industries in the name of those of us who depend on their profit-motivated drive to serve us.
Romney as Social Conservative
I recently commented on the fact that questions about Mitt Romney's religion, while relevant on one level, are distracting on another. This article, while focusing mainly on Romney's failings as a fiscal conservative, makes hims sound like the worst of both worlds.
After an unremarkable four-year term, we have seen what happens when a Republican governor refuses to take a no-new-taxes pledge, and then, not surprisingly, raises taxes (and morphs into a social conservative and runs full time for president instead of governing.) ...In other words, in Romney, we have yet another big-government, religious conservative running as a fiscal conservative. This man, rather than being the face of a party I can support, looks more and more like a poster-boy for why I cannot support the GOP.
Plenty has been written about Romney's conservative conversion on social issues, but you in the New Hampshire GOP have historically been more concerned with how a candidate's record affects your wallet than your bedroom. And on that score, Romney's candidacy should give you pause.
North Korea's Criminal Enterprises
An article in the New York Sun ticks off a long list of illegal activities North Korea is involved in. This is hardly a surprise. What I find interesting is how much of what it does is enabled by our own government's improper activities.
- For years, the North Korean state has been raking in money from the illicit, international sale of drugs, ranging from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines....
- The next North Korean racket to grab attention was the counterfeiting of U.S. currency.
- In recent years, Kim's regime has been wallowing in profits on counterfeit cigarettes. A tobacco industry study in 2005 estimated the gross revenues from these sales to be $520 million to $720 million per year. (Cigarette smuggling is highly profitable because a pack costs just pennies to produce; most of the retail price is excise taxes.)
- [I]n selling missiles and missile technology over the years to such places as Venezuela, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Syria and Iran, North Korea has by some educated guesses earned $1 billion or more.