9-20-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two-Edged Precedent

Over at Forbes, there is an interesting article about a Supreme Court precedent that the Uber ride-sharing service is using to withstand legal attacks from various taxi monopolies:

When Chief Justice Roger Taney - later of Dred Scott infamy - wrote the majority opinion in Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837), he understood its implications for the vibrant economic development of that day. If granting a charter to one company meant the state could not charter competing companies, technological change and its accompanying improvements would cease. Turnpike companies would soon awake "from their sleep," Taney warned, suing railroads and canals to stop them from competing, throwing society "back to the improvements of the last century" instead of permitting it to benefit from "modern science[.]" The Supreme Court held that a charter did not protect a company against competition or being rendered obsolete in the course of progress.
This precedent may help Uber in the immediate term, but I see danger in the fact that the ruling is about companies with state-granted monopolies.

Certainly, if the state has a need to contract with a private concern, there should be measures in place to ensure that others can compete for future contracts. But the state contracting for services is not the same thing as the state establishing a monopoly. Nor is the state protecting the right of a company doing business the same thing as the state contracting with it. Although large-scale engineering projects are so often undertaken by the state as to usually be called "public works", they should not be, any more than the state ought to restrict market entry into areas like personal transportation. There is a real danger here of the role of the state being taken to be permitting companies to operate, rather than ensuring their freedom to do so.

Reliance on this precedent may well thwart the immediate attacks on Uber, but it leaves the door open for (and arguably invites) the state to grant licenses to (i.e., impose similar restrictions or massive regulations on) these new services. This article praises capitalism, but we must remember that capitalism entails freedom to contract between individuals. Unless we start questioning the premise that "public works" and "public utilities" (like Uber?) are legitimate roles for government, Uber may well win the battle against the rent-seeking taxi companies, but lose the war against the many-tentacled, meddling state.

Weekend Reading

"In Titan, the biography of John D. Rockefeller, the family patriarch required his kids to live for periods of time in relatively humble circumstances, away from the family mansion." -- Michael Hurd, in "How to Successfully Enjoy Your Stuff" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Religionists, socialists and other puritanical mentalities sanctimoniously blame 'materialism' for what is in fact an anxiety issue." -- Michael Hurd, in "Do You Spend Too Much?" at The Delaware Wave

"By announcing his intention to appoint an Ebola 'czar' in an effort to coordinate the US government's response to the ongoing spread of this deadly disease in West Africa, President Obama is illustrating a shortcoming in our current biosecurity and the ability of our health system to respond to emerging infectious diseases." -- Amesh Adalja, in "The Path Forward on Ebola and Other Public Health Emergencies" at Forbes

My Two Cents

Because those afflicted by infectious diseases can, through carelessness or intent, harm others by sickening them, there can be legitimate, non-rights-threatening government actions (e.g., quarantines or border crossing restrictions) to prevent their spread. The Adalja article illustrates how government meddling in the medical sector that has nothing to do with its legitimate function is impairing its ability to perform that part of its function. And this is on top of the fact that such meddling often violates individual rights or threatens to do so.

The Benefits of Bookmarking

Once I found a bookmarking service that lets me focus on being able to find information later -- rather than trying to turn what should be an unobtrusive task into a social networking time sink -- I quickly found it useful in many areas of my life.

And yet I am still occasionally am surprised at the usefulness of the practice. This morning, a tip on organizing medicine cabinets popped up during an unrelated search through my bookmarks, solving a problem that had been annoying me over the past couple of days. I had completely forgotten about the tip, as well as the fact that I'd either already thought about the problem at some point in the past, or bumped into it at some time I couldn't act on it -- like surfing on my phone while in a checkout line.



John Shepard said...

I have never commented on your blog, Mr. Van Horn, but I've been reading and regularly sharing your posts for sometime.

I should have long ago said so, but thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly enjoy reading what you have to say, including your commentary on being a dad, and checking out the articles you mention.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hi John,

Thank you for the kind words and for following my blog.