Must Be Absolute

We can have cheap prices for a scarce commodity and its sudden disappearance as everyone uses it up, or we can have higher prices that make it available to those willing to pay for it. There is nothing in between.

As I posted recently, “fairness” still cannot equalize people in circumstances of time and place. When government forces lower prices, finding something scarce becomes about luck rather than others willing to pay more than others. Then we must remember that government-imposed caps are the threat that if someone won’t sell at a lower price demanded by everyone else, then agents of the state have the authority to come beat, arrest and imprison the seller. It is the denial that someone’s property is his own until he voluntarily sells it or gives it away.

“I like your car. Think you might sell it?”

“Most anything’s for sale if the price is right.”

“I’ll offer $____.”

“No thanks, the car’s got more than that in sentimental value to me.”

“Too bad, you have to sell it to me now.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Not when I have the government behind me.”

“How is the government behind you?”

“The law says you can’t charge more than __% of bluebook.”

“I don’t care. It’s my car, and I won’t give it up for a lot more.”

“Too bad, the government was democratically elected. You have to sell.”

By the same principle that someone shouldn’t be forced to sell a car for less than what he wants, the ideas of eminent domain and government-imposed price caps are anathema to freedom. The rights to life, liberty and property MUST be absolute. If they can be abrogated by government that others create, then they aren’t rights, but merely the permission of others.

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Why We Need Markets for Justice

The fundamental cause of law enforcement abuses is deeper than the essential blank check of violence in most cases. The fundamental cause is that taxpayers are disconnected from the monetary costs of law enforcement, particularly hiring and firing. If a company security guard mistreats an employee, odds are he’ll be fired once a supervisor determines wrongdoing. If a security guard mistreats customers, people will start staying away if nothing is done.

Who would personally go, or hire someone to personally go, to demand that blood be drawn from an unconscious suspect? There might be a victim or victim’s family who would be interested enough. But who would go so far as to threaten violence against a medical professional who wouldn’t comply, and risk retaliation if they initiate violence? Note that I’m talking about when someone is suspected of a crime. Now, who would have so forcefully demanded blood drawn when someone isn’t suspected of any crime at all? What kind of investigation could morally justify threatening violence against someone? It took the manhandling of Alex Wubbels to demonstrate how far law enforcement will go, not because of an actual crime, but for not obeying an order that turns out to be unlawful and downright immoral. Yet I wonder how few people have learned that to force an investigation requires the threat of violence, starting with arrest, up to jailing and prosecution.

Moreover, who would hire someone knowing that if their chosen law enforcement agent did something wrong, then those who hired him would personally be liable to pay for damages, if not criminally responsible for any of the agent’s criminal actions? Things change dramatically when accountability is introduced, that individuals become responsible for those they task with enforcing “law and order.” However, when government is the buffer, we’re insulated and need not worry about specific actors. It becomes easier to hope beyond hope that those hired, by those already hired on the other side of the buffer, will be of good character and effective.

Richard Ebeling once told me, “Government makes criminals of us all.” Government sets up society so that no person can live a life without using some sort of government service, paid for through coerced taxes. I later came to realize that government needs to make moral cowards of us all, in order to keep us dependent on it for the dispensation of justice. And when it fails, we can be outraged for a while, but we can soon enough look away and live our lives as if an event never happened. After all, the general nature of most tax funding means that when there is liability, we can wash our hands as Pontius Pilate did, and never blink at how much a wrongdoing settlement cost each individual taxpayer. It’s so much easier than the alternative of doing it ourselves or finding the right person to do it for us.

When Detective Jeff Payne, SLPD, infamously arrested Alex Wubbels weeks ago, he said this to another hospital employee (a supervisor?): “And I understand what your policy is. I’m trying to telling you what you need legally, ok, and your policy right now is co-, uh, contravening what I need legally, ok? Which I may not need it, if you have blood that I can give Logan to come and get a warrant and test for later, ok. but this is all stuff that we should have a conversation with before I’m told no no no no no. There’s a very bad habit here of your policy here interfering with MY LAW, ok? I am trying to conduct a criminal investigation, step through the process, ok? And you guys are trying to prevent liability coming on the hospital. And I appreciate that, but those sometimes don’t meet, and they don’t match up.” [emphasis added]

Payne is a bigger thug than I thought. His own words show his attitude: “my law.” He called it a “criminal investigation” when that patient was not suspected of any crime. He either disregarded or didn’t know of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, when as senior law enforcement he should have known better. He should have known, as a law enforcement veteran, the proper procedure for obtaining evidence. The attitude of “seize evidence now, get a warrant later” is something any rookie defense attorney can seize on to get charges summarily dismissed. If ignorance of the law is no excuse for civilians, is that not also so for police?

Prosecution wasn’t his problem, though. As far as he was concerned, forget the nurse and hospital, and let them assume liability. Had Alex Wubbels drawn the blood, she’d have found herself on the receiving end of a civil lawsuit. It would have assuredly finished her career in anything medical, and she’d likely have found it impossible to get a job in other industries that required individual judgment and basic knowledge of law. If the patient convinced a DA to file misdemeanor charges of battery, that would have appeared on any background check for the rest of her life, and some employers will not hire anyone with so much as a minor criminal history.

What she did, though, as someone pointed out, has made her the most famous nurse in the U.S., able to put down “I stand for patients’ rights because I know hospital policy and the law” on her resume.

By contrast, Payne has shown he either disregards the rules and makes them up as he goes along, or he doesn’t know the basic legalities of the phlebotomy he was supposedly trained in. He showed physical anger in slapping the nurse’s phone away and dragging her out of the hospital. It’s therefore understandable that he’s been suspended, will likely be fired, and may face criminal charges. Three decades on the force aren’t enough to offset the possibility that he might do it again, to anyone. It’s just as understandable, then, that Gold Cross Ambulance let him go. He said, captured on bodycam, “I’ll bring them [the hospital] all the transients and take good patients elsewhere.” But even with that stupid thing to say, he was too big a risk. No ambulance service now could chance him getting violent with someone who didn’t do what he wanted. They can’t afford the risk of being sued, let alone the bad PR, if he threatened to arrest or threatened to have someone arrested.

I don’t care much for Reason magazine, but it made an important observation early on: “What Payne did here is patently, inescapably wrong in just about every possible way. Just one year ago the Supreme Court ruled that police must get a warrant or consent in order to draw a person’s blood. It’s utterly inconceivable that Payne, who is a trained phlebotomist with the police, did not know this. According to coverage from the Salt Lake Tribune, Payne acknowledged that he didn’t have probable cause to get a warrant, but nevertheless insisted he had the authority to demand Wubbels draw blood.”

From the headline, the Reason piece calls for every cop involved to be fired, and yes, that should include his supervisor. I’d also have to say it should include the present campus police and hospital security who failed in their jobs to stop a clear aggressor. If they didn’t know what Payne was doing was immoral and unlawful, they should have as a matter of basic competency. If they simply defer unquestioningly to a stronger uniform, then they shouldn’t be in their jobs.

At least the hospital now has established a new policy about police having to deal only with supervisors, and away from patient areas. That will make it a little easier for campus police and hospital security who don’t know what they’re supposed to do.

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Legislation Can’t Fix Imperfect Information

Unequal wage gaps will exist so long as unequal skills, education levels and effort exists. No legislation will change that.

I will add another factor, imperfect information, which likewise cannot be changed by government. No individual, or even a large group, can have perfect information of all people, times and places. Someone may not know about a higher-paying job perfectly suited to that person’s skill set, just as that other employer may not know about that particular person who’s exactly the one needed at the time. It could be asked, with all the employers and employees in the country, wouldn’t this average out insofar as the supposed gender wage gap? This goes to the “effort” factor, though, that not everyone has the same ambition to seek higher pay.

Imperfect information also means that employers and employees can only act based on what they know, which seems a tautology, but this is to stress how little they do know. As my economics sensei taught me, prices are a discovery process, and that applies as much to labor as anything else. A hiring manager would be aware of a “going rate” for a certain job, but as there’s, of course, no ticker-tape or skywriting to declare what someone “should” be paid, it costs time and other things to find out. Moreover, an employing entity can deal only with what it can offer an employee, which is why one secretary may be “underpaid” so that a top lawyer is retained (the secretary can be replaced with another who’d take less money, but the boss is crucial to keep).

Perhaps someone discovers that she’s paid less for approximately the same job that another performs elsewhere, though both may have approximately the same skills, experience, and ambition. This doesn’t mean the employer had any malicious intent, rather that the employer and employee made a voluntary agreement based on their information and what the company could offer. Again, prices are a discovery process, and an employee learning he or she could have greater value is an addition to the information both parties have. That doesn’t mean, though, that an employer is able to offer additional money to keep an employee. Also, there will be skewing by companies at the high end of the scale, like Goldman Sachs would be expected to pay more than a small midtown boutique investment firm. And there we could also expect a big difference in “effort” that is typically not accounted for, namely the intensity of work expected.

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“Price-Gouging” is Necessary, and Noble

This article by Thomas Sowell from 2004 remains strikingly wise, lucid and elegant, so much so that I always remember it when reading of “price-gouging” accusations.

Sowell is not an Austrian economist yet hits on the importance of prices. As a student of the Austrian School, I’d add that prices are a signal of scarcity, and it is their change that is needed to change the allocation of resources. Higher prices not only promote the more careful use of a scarce resource, they encourage an increase in supply when possible. Wrote Sowell,

Those who got to the hotel first would fill up the rooms and those who got there later would be out of luck — and perhaps out of doors or out of the community. At higher prices, a family that might have rented one room for the parents and another for the children will now double up in just one room because of the ‘exorbitant’ prices. That leaves another room for someone else.

Someone whose home was damaged, but not destroyed, may decide to stay home and make do in less than ideal conditions, rather than pay the higher prices at the local hotel. That too will leave another room for someone whose home was damaged worse or destroyed.

The same applies to gasoline, water or other resources that become suddenly limited after a disaster. People unable to afford filling up two vehicles will make do with one, leaving more gasoline for others willing to pay for it. If someone is asking $40 or even $100 for a case of water, someone willing to pay that will not use the water for purposes less valuable than the money. Note that I didn’t phrase it “that will not waste the water.” I eschew calling it “waste” since it’s a subjective word, for what one person deems “waste” may be a perfectly appropriate use for another. At a significantly high price, the buyer will be unlikely to use two bottles of water to wash hands when half of one would do, and he would take great care not to damage any bottles or forget them somewhere. Or perhaps the person is of such great wealth, and knowing others would sell him a case of water for $100 or $200, he doesn’t need to be as sparing as others would be.

What’s forgotten with “price-gouging” accusations is what the buyer receives. As Frédéric Bastiat taught, the difference between a good economist and a bad economist is that the latter considers only what is seen, not what is unseen. Accusations of “price-gouging” see only that the buyer pays a higher price, ignoring what the seller receives. Someone who happened to have a dozen cases of water saved in his garage, and sells them all for $40 each, now has $480 to spend on other resources which are also suddenly scarce — food, gasoline or a hotel room. Why should a homeowner or store owner be penalized when he had the good sense to save water for future use or sale, and the resource has suddenly become much more valuable? Should a farmer be penalized for happening to own land underneath which a rich oil deposit is found?

Moreover, what a seller wants for a case of water shows how valuable it is for himself. If government forces him to sell it for no more than the “normal” price, or a price only a little higher “as established by law,” then he would be apt to use it for a purpose less valuable than what another person was willing to pay. And that, because and only because of government’s force, would most certainly be a waste.

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Two Minutes Hate, At Least

The mindset is prevailing, I fear, that if a person isn’t actively part of the multitudes condemning, blasting and otherwise speaking negatively about something, then the person must be one of “them” or at least a sympathizer. Once upon a time, the requirement involved shouting at the top of one’s lungs. Now it’s a certain percentage of one’s social media presence.

Then I was struck by a parallel. The novel 1984 depicts a “Two Minutes Hate” that everyone must participate in, screaming against images of “enemies.” It is no less absurd that today everyone is expected to join in denouncing this and that, for two days and maybe even two weeks.

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Those Who Think Nothing of Voting Us into Compliance

“But we don’t vilify communists nearly to the same extent as Nazis, to the point where many Americans and politicians openly mourn the deaths of communist dictators like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.”

American thinking has degenerated enough that it must be stressed, over and over, that to say B is as bad as A, even worse than A, in no wise mitigates saying how bad A is. It seems the government’s monopoly on education has finally eroded enough common sense over the decades that many can seriously argue that to pin blame on two sides is somehow excusing one, as if blame is somehow a rivalrous, consumable good.

The greatest threat to my liberty is not the relatively few neo-Nazis scattered around the country, or even (so far) outright Antifa thugs. It’s those on the left who are ideologically what Antifa, BLM and others came from, and there are many millions of them around the country. They are not directly violent, but they are fond of hitting polling places, which is merely to decide on which violence shall be implemented. They vote for the sole purpose of giving themselves the property of others, particularly the redistribution of wealth and other forced “equality.” When they don’t get their way through voting, like Hillary the Anointed not winning, or wanting to shut down speakers, then they’ve been resorting to thuggery. Their biggest impact, however, remains at the voting booth, where they support those who promise them the most, paid for by everyone else.

But aren’t politicians, regulators and their military a threat to me? To be sure, yet they are the manifestations of the millions around me who think nothing of voting me into compliance.

“The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.” – Frédéric Bastiat

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