Quick Roundup 199

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Good Article and a Case to Watch

George Will writes an article -- well worth reading in full -- about the economic distortions brought about by government regulation of the number of cab drivers through licensing schemes in such cities as New York and Minneapolis. He then mentions a rare victory in the cause of removing government interference from the economy.

But all this is merely en route to his describing a very interesting and important legal case that has been filed as a result of said victory.

In response, the [state-created taxi] cartel is asking a federal court to say the cartel's constitutional rights have been violated. It says the cap -- a barrier to entry into the taxi business -- constituted an entitlement to profits that now are being "taken" by government action.

The Constitution's Fifth Amendment says no property shall be "taken" without just compensation. The concept of an injury through "regulatory taking" is familiar and defensible: Such an injury occurs when regulation reduces the value of property by restricting its use. But the taxi cartel is claiming a deregulatory taking: It wants compensation because it now faces unanticipated competition. [bold added]
So poor is the general appreciation of the concept of individual rights that it is the abolition of a special favor granted by the government -- and not the government's being able to take property in the first place -- to which objections are raised! Needless to say, this is a case to watch, and I am grateful that George Will brought it up.

It is worth noting further that, in addition to the economic distortions wrought by this government trampling of rights, the very laws Will discusses are among those that made possible the recent attempts by Moslem cab drivers in Minneapolis-St. Paul to impose their religious beliefs on others by refusing service to anyone who wanted to bring alcohol on board their cabs.

As Software Nerd pointed out in a comment, "[T]hey should abandon the tag system altogether, and let the muslims refuse service if they want." Indeed. Under capitalism, riders would have many other options available to them -- like refusing money to superstitious, control freak cab drivers who won't carry alcohol.

A Round of thanks ...

... should go to the unsung heroes in a story (image from the Associated Press) I read about yesterday morning in San Antonio.

Heavy rains caused a Greyhound bus to hydroplane on a freeway, nearly causing the bus , loaded with passengers, to plummet straight into the flood-engorged Guadalupe River. Amazingly, everyone lived and there were no major injuries.

The focus of this news story was on the weather and the terror of the occupants before they escaped from the rear windows of the vehicle. In fact, an official is quoted as saying that, "They were very lucky. The river was right underneath them."

But this wasn't dumb luck! This was an example of human genius in action, but the clue was mentioned only in passing: The bus "broke through the railing of a bridge." That railing impeded the bus enough to save all on board, and the engineers who designed it never came up. Were it not for the men who thought about how to make that highway as safe as it turned out to be, that bus would have plunged into the river and we'd have been reading about fatalities.

We owe those men a word of thanks -- and especially since their effectiveness is so much a part of our daily lives as not to be regarded by most as newsworthy.

An Example of "Soft Paternalism"

From time to time, I see various pundits, including libertarians, floating the notion that it is somehow okay for the government to enact Orwellian programs so long as they are sneaky about it.

Now, via Matt Drudge, I see that this concept is being put into practice.
The federal government is undertaking the most ambitious set of studies ever mounted under a controversial arrangement that allows researchers to conduct some kinds of medical experiments without first getting the patients' permission.

The $50 million, five-year project, which will involve more than 20,000 patients in 11 sites in the United States and Canada, is designed to improve treatment after car accidents, shootings, cardiac arrest and other emergencies.

The three studies, organizers say, offer an unprecedented opportunity to find better ways to resuscitate people whose hearts suddenly stop, to stabilize patients who go into shock and to minimize damage from head injuries. Because such patients are usually unconscious at a time when every minute counts [for whom? --ed], it is often impossible to get consent from them or their families, the organizers say.

The project has been endorsed by many trauma experts and some bioethicists, but others question it. The harshest critics say the research violates fundamental ethical principles. [bold added]
The article goes on to discuss how difficult it would be to obtain informed consent under the conditions during which one might become "eligible" for the study, and ends with the following quote from Myron Weisfeldt, one of the organizers of this "study":
Some people object to the whole concept of doing any study whatsoever without permission. We try to explain all the layers of approval we've gone through and that this is the only way we can do the kind of research that could save many more lives in the future. [bold added]
No mention is made, as the "difficulty" of obtaining consent is used as a distraction, of how "difficult" it might be for a loved one to lose someone who might have lived had he been able to avoid one of the experimental treatments. Furthermore, Weisfeldt seems particularly hopeful that his "layers of approval" will disguise the fact that the crucial one is still missing: that of the Guinea pig -- I mean, the patient!

Even without disentangling the state from scientific research and medicine, I can come up with one very simple (if inconvenient) way to get informed consent for these studies: by asking in advance. By, say, cooperating with insurance companies that might offer rate discounts as an inducement to study participants (who might have to wear an ID bracelet or anklet or even an embedded microchip), it would be possible to avoid making you or me into a laboratory animal at a time when, as they say, "every minute counts".

To "save lives" by attacking individual rights is a contradiction in terms. I find it quite disturbing that such blatant violations of our rights cause little indignation, while being discussed in completely nonessential terms.

-- CAV


Galileo Blogs said...

Gus, you are absolutely right that permission can and should be given in advance for medical experimentation where live consent is not possible because the patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to give consent.

It is a sign of how much our government thinks of the citizens as its property, to be disposed of as it wishes. After all, it controls nearly all aspects of our lives, the food we eat, the medicines we ingest, when we can die, etc.

On a related topic, the idea of advance permissions is highly relevant for organ donation. Why shouldn't people be able to sell their organs *in advance*, before they die. A company that procures organs could pay you today for the right to harvest your organs when you die. In exchange, say, for $200 or $1000 or whatever the market price determines, you would put your name in a database and carry an organ donor card with you so that if you die, all your usable body parts are harvested and sold to those who need the organs.

This would solve nearly instantaneously the organ shortage in this country and most other parts of the world. Economics tells us that shortages are caused by price controls. Well, in the case of organs, the legal price is zero. Bring on the market and organs will be supplied, without any of the macabre baloney about organ snatching or the ghostly Christian ethics that holds it is somehow immoral to sell body parts.

I would even go further and say that a futures market in human organs could be established. After all, pork bellies are sold on futures markets. Why not a market in kidney or lung or heart futures? Investors could buy packages of these securities. Financially, they would be similar to mortgage backed securities where the investor takes on prepayment risk, the uncertainty of when the mortgage gets prepaid. An investor in organ futures would assume the uncertainty of longevity. Obviously, organ futures of long-lived donors would be worth less than short-lived donors.

As in the market for pork bellies or mortgage securities, the big benefit of a market in organ futures is liquidity. By providing liquidity, it facilitates the transaction between buyer and seller. Both parties gain, the donor who gets cash today while he is alive, and the organ recipients, who would otherwise die if the organ futures market did not exist.

Organ futures is an idea whose time is now. Heck, if I could get cash today to carry an organ donation card in my wallet, I'd do it. Look in my wallet now, and there is no organ donation card. How many millions of other Americans like me would gladly sell their organ futures if only it were legal for them to do so?

Gus Van Horn said...

Your idea on organ futures is a good one I'd never thought of or heard of before. It is also one that many would openly mock.

Blame the folly of damning the profit motive while giving the benefit of the doubt to the wielders of government force for that fact! After all, if the idea is strange at first, it is remarkably humane compared to the "libertarian paternalism" that holds that we should all be organ donors "by default".

Your idea is only unusual. The idea of the state "parting out" dead citizens like discarded automobiles is what is truly obscene. (And on top of providing a rational inducement to providing organs to transplant, the free market would be a far more efficient and less-ghoulish distribution mechanism than the system we have in place now, where you're constantly hearing about people having to hope someone dies when they need a transplant....)

Galileo Blogs said...

Gus, I read the link to your prior post and one of your lines made me laugh out loud:

"That's my body, asshole..."

Sometimes cursing is the only appropriate response!! It certainly was in this case.

As for my organ futures idea, I haven't read it anywhere else, either. I meant it to be somewhat shocking, so that people would think and view the entire issue in a different light. However, it really doesn't matter whether an actual organ futures market similar to commodity futures develops.

All that matters is that people have the right to sell their body parts now for distribution after their death. If people were allowed to do this, which is simply a manifestation of the right to their own bodies, the market would eliminate the shortage in organs nearly immediately. Markets for various organs would clear at a certain price. That price would likely decline very quickly over time, as progressively more people chose to sell the right to harvest their organs after they die. (Sometimes, even while their alive, for example with kidneys, skin patches, etc.)

I will probably re-post on this topic on my blog.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! Glad you liked that line....

I look forward to reading your post on organ trading. I am sure that some will find it shocking even without a "futuristic" slant, but all who are capable of rational thought will find it thought-provoking.