Friday, July 13, 2012

Much Ado About ... Clothing?!

So, apparently Congress has nothing better to do than worry about what the U.S. Olympic Team is wearing.  So much so, in fact, that John Boehner crossed the aisle to join Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in speaking out yesterday, attacking the USOC’s choice regarding the athletes’ outfits.

One can just picture Gopher and Doc
standing on the podium.  (AP Photo)
So what has their collective panties in such a bunch?  Is it that they prefer American athletes to not look like French athletes (a la berets)?  Is it that they object to the athletes looking like part of the crew of the Love Boat??  No, what is apparently so absolutely unconscionable, on a level warranting the scorn and condemnation of federal policymakers is that their outfits were manufactured by Ralph Lauren…in CHINA!

Setting aside the numerous follies and fallacies of mercantilist protectionism, what strikes me about this is these people’s ignorance of the basic economic principles of tradeoffs.  This doesn’t surprise me, mind you, given their repeated demonstration of ignorance and/or stupidity regarding any number of basic economic principles.  But even a very basic thought-experiment that follows from the huffing and puffing of these Congressional blowhards shows the shortsightedness of their suggested remedies.

First thing to note is that the USOC is a private, non-profit organization.  They face very real economic tradeoffs on how to spend donors’ contributions.  So, when one examines Harry Reid’s suggestion to burn these outfits and start over (or even if one wants to examine the generalized, hypothetical case of “The USOC should have known better and bought American from the start”), one must ask the question, “At what cost?”

So what is the opportunity cost of going with American-made outfits?  The short answer is:  whatever else the USOC could have spent the money on that they saved by going with the CHinese-made outfits.  The most obvious and impactful example is training.  Should the USOC forego some valuable athlete training in order to pay more for outfits??  That strikes me as a dubious tradeoff, but regardless, if that's what the USOC wanted to do, then good for them.  But I don't have any problem with them choosing to use their money as wisely as they see fit (just like any other private citizen or group).  And before anyone in Congress criticizes what a private organization or person spends their OWN money on, they really should think about that old adage regarding glass houses and throwing stones, given the frivolous things they choose to spend OTHER PEOPLE'S money on!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Call Out Licensing Requirements For What They Are

Here is a letter to the editor I sent to my local paper regarding an example of this lesson in political economy that affected me personally.  In this case, recent action was taken by the Spotsylvania County Health Inspector to put a stop to my local barbershop's practice of performing a relaxing head, neck, and upper back massage at the end of a haircut.

July 12, 2012

To the editor,

One of the best barbershops in the Fredericksburg area is the one located on Bragg Road, next to the Towne Centre.  For the low price of $13, one can get not only a very good haircut but also a relaxing neck-and-upper-back massage.  It really is one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had, which is why I am a long-time repeat customer.

So what is my point in sharing this?  A few days ago, I found out that the Spotsylvania Health Inspector has recently put a stop to the shop’s practice of providing the neck-and-upper-back massage.  Apparently, such a service requires a license or certification, which the barbershop did not have.

Why should any license or certification be required?  Some would say ‘safety.’  Ludicrous.  Nobody who gets a haircut there fears they will somehow be harmed (if they did, they would stop going).  Others would say ‘liability protection.’  Again, ridiculous.  That is why we have the rule of law.  The barbershop, given the option, would clearly choose to offer the service on the extremely off-chance that they might get sued one day for accidentally causing damage.

The fact of the matter is that this kind of licensing regulation is nothing more than government-enforced monopoly protection for politically connected cronies.  Such restrictions are typically lobbied for by the very beneficiaries of such regulations:  existing businesses.  Why?  To restrict entry of would-be competitors.  Similar regulations prevent many African-American women from being able to run braiding businesses (without a cosmetology license) or even a monastery in Louisiana from selling caskets to raise money.  The same goes for this barbershop, where they were simply making the haircut experience more enjoyable and relaxing to customers willing to pay for it.  Over-reaching regulation has now robbed Fredericksburg residents of this luxury.  This decision should be over-turned.

Very respectfully,
Ben Bursae
Fredericksburg, VA

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Let's Draft Our Kids"???

I came across this July 10 NYT op-ed today, and I was almost blown away by the vast number of downright fallacious and inane assertions that the author (Thomas Ricks) puts forth.  It's almost overhwelming to try to address them all in one sitting.  So, it's better to pick a few and start from there.

Here, Don Boudreaux takes on the ludicrous idea that we would be better off by turning over tasks currently performed by older, experienced military members to younger, inexperienced conscripts.

Ricks closes his "Ode to Inanity" by repeating the tired (and historically inaccurate) argument of how a draft lends itself to "wiser war-making."  The draft didn't prevent the atrociously wrong-headed and ultimately tragic policy that was the Vietnam War.  It doesn't follow logically that a government that has reduced the cost of a military (or any of its agencies) is less likely to use it.  Ludwig von Mises wrote about how it is in the nature of a bureaucracy (of which the U.S. military is most certainly one) to try to expand its power base by spending all of its budget and making the case for additional responsibilities (and accompanying budget plus-ups) to be added.  The only case the U.S. military can make for additional responsibility is to attempt to justify it through finding additional wars to fight, additional campaigns to plan for, and additional "enemies" to preemptively attack.  There is also the compelling point that a conscripted force has no recourse in the event the government errs and enters into a misguided war.  With an all-volunteer force, the government must be more careful not to unwisely engage in conflict (else it risks losing its workforce).  One can see this in a simple and analogous thought-experiment:  Ask yourself which private company is more likely to treat its workforce better:  Company A, who must hire its employees, or Company B, who is permitted to own slaves?

My last point I'll make here is regarding the title, which is simply infuriating (and should be to anyone who abhors slavery as a human practice).  "Let's Draft OUR Kids"?!?  As if OUR kids belong to HIM (and others like him)!  If Mr. Ricks wants to sell his own kid into slavery, that's between him and his kid.  But to assert that he (and other Progressives like him) have a claim to anyone else's kid should be a huge flashing warning sign about the potentially unlimited uses Mr. Ricks and people like him sees for "our kids" once the government has them in its clutches.  It belies a downrigth scary view regarding the relationship between the U.S. government and U.S. citizens that is 180-degrees off from the principles underlying the United States's fouding.  This kind of policy is only logically supported by the view that we are slaves to the government, and by extension, slaves to our fellow citizens, devoid of any individual rights, most certainly those basic and inalienable ones proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.