Winners and Losers

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Wall Street Journal story about an estimated "subsidy" of $1.46 per Amazon box delivered by the U.S. Postal Service brings up the common conservative lament about the government "picking winners and losers" when it meddles in the economy:

I do not know which stores in my neighborhood will be gone five years from now, but I am certain my household will continue to receive numerous boxes from Amazon. I also believe that society would be better off if competing retailers, online or brick-and-mortar, continue to thrive. Congress should demand the enforcement of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, and the Postal Service needs to stop picking winners and losers in the retail world. The federal government has had its thumb on the competitive scale for far too long. [bold added]
I agree that the government should stop "picking winners and losers," but simply enforcing a rule about the operation of an agency that shouldn't even exist isn't the way to do this. Why? Because anything the government does outside its proper purpose of protecting individual rights constitutes "picking winners and losers." When the government, in violation of the right to contract, establishes a monopoly in some enterprise, the principle that adults should be free to exercise their best judgment loses. Consequently, those who might innovate in that industry are impeded or thwarted along with their potential customers -- and those who fear competition on merit win. When government subsidizes an enterprise (like the post office), it compounds the same sins with theft at the expense of the productive -- leaving the unproductive as winners. Do note that, due to the nature of principles, there are always more losers than meet the eye (and, thanks to precedent and the fact that controls breed controls, vast potential for more losers). This pool of losers often includes the "winners," whose gains may be illusory and, in any event, are not protected by the now-violated principles. Furthermore, any material gains are wholly dependent on the continued prosperity of those now hobbled by legal parasitism. For example, I can't help but wonder, in this story, about whether this "gift card from Uncle Sam" even begins to make up for all the taxes Amazon, the "winner" in this story, is paying. (Clearly, if the author gets his wish, even that wouldn't be for long.)

It does not matter whether Amazon lobbied in some way to continue getting this "gift card" or it is simply taking advantage of a dumb state of affairs not of its own making: Anyone truly serious about the government getting out of the business of "picking winners and losers" should question the whole premise of the government entanglement with the economy. The problem isn't that (at worst) a company that would get along fine without a "subsidy" is getting one, it's that we are being ordered around, and having our pockets picked for the privilege. Those subsidies come from somewhere, and, since money doesn't grow on trees, that means they come from someone.

I'd happily pay a little more for the convenience of shopping at Amazon, but I suspect that shipping might actually be a lot cheaper without (for example) the government forcing us to support the Post Office or strangling new technologies, such as commercial drones, with the uncertainty of bureaucratic regulatory whim.

-- CAV

P.S.: For yet another equally ridiculous conservative effort to "level the playing field", please refer to my old column on "efairness". Oddly enough, Amazon is the persecuted minority there, too.


Vigilis said...

Gus, the average cost of government favoritism in Amazon's case may be even higher than the $1.46 reported. Twice now, I have received Sunday deliveries by the U.S.P.S. of products ordered from Amazon on standard delivery terms. I have never participated in any Amazon PRIME program, and am very surprised the postal service seems to be making Sunday deliveries, although the new microwave oven's early arrival was a very convenient surprise.

Gus Van Horn said...


Maybe, maybe not. Recalling that, around the same time it cut back on Saturday deliveries, it added Sunday delivery, I found this article about the new delivery times (which include holidays and non-Prime customers).

Note that healthcare benefits seem to drive both decisions. The article notes this explicitly in the case of the Saturday cutbacks, and indirectly for the new Sunday/holiday deliveries: Most of the new work is being handled by part-timers.