Bitter, Free-Market Distributism [RAMBLES]

i used to wonder, when i stood in line at a permitting office (to understand what this is like for a Libertarian, try to imagine being a Puritan, somehow compelled to stand amid the crowd readying the sacrifice to Baal) why any eye of any official in the place remained unblackened. Or at least why such business was not conducted through bulletproof glass, to prevent every contractor or foreman from plucking every officer of interference from behind the counter and beating him senseless. Why was it possible for these officials, who had no more right to choose a wire gauge or outlet spacing for me than i have right to choose a wife for you, to get out three words of their interference or “correction” without having their interfering teeth kicked straight down their interfering throats? Why was i alone (or so nearly alone) in absolute rage?

The answer is startlingly simple. If i may speak for the worst kind of contractor, who has some skill in navigating the regulatory thicket, who knows when to pay fees, knows ahead of time which fees to pay, knows who to give donuts, knows whose boss to call…When he hears the official say, “That will be $387.00 non-refundable to check the plans for this shed.” He does not hear how unnecessarily difficult and costly his work is being made for him, he hears how impossible it is being made for others. $387.00 is a small price to pay for monopoly. His heart may well leap at the very absurdity of a regulatory requirement, as he laughs to himself, “Sure, a crew of illegal immigrants could do this job for half the price, but let’s see them perform an environmental impact study!” The more burdensome are the regulatory requirements, and the more unlike they are to production itself, the more viable competitors become non-viable.

‘”Here, I have some apples, would you like to buy them?” “Yes, thank you.” THAT’S HOW HARD IT SHOULD BE TO START A BUSINESS IN THIS COUNTRY.
-Ron Swanson

Economists all know that barriers produce inefficiency, burden consumers with excessive costs, preserve economic rents (monopoly profits), stifle innovation, and further strain the wage-market with unemployment and thus also depress wages. Anyone of any sense sees that these same barriers are an injustice, pure and simple, that there is nothing right about preventing a man who can build well from building, because he cannot write well, or schmooze well, or pay enormous fees well. Yet everyone screams for more barriers, the moment they begin to shout for consumer protections. You cannot waive licensing requirements in order to get a lower price or quicker work, no matter how good are your assurances of quality. You cannot contract around the consumer protections of bonds or mandatory insurance, and as a consequence, skilled hands sit idle for lack of these things. You cannot break the monopoly, once it is set in law, and this is exactly what you demand when you demand that the state prevent you from transacting business with any willing supplier. The state chooses its favorites, calls them “authorized,” “approved,” or “licensed,” and from there on out monopoly is theirs. Congratulations, you have traded the risk of being exploited by a charlatan of your own choosing for the certainty of being exploited by a few of the state’s choosing. Hedged against competition, these privileged few reap rewards impossible under Capitalism, while the Left rails against the market itself for producing an imbalance which needed, for its very existence, the suppression of the market. The goal of exploiting the consumer is a fantasy of greed, until consumer protections are imposed. Once competition is restrained by these protections however…To extinguish competition in order to protect the consumer is the economic equivalent to the extermination of cats to arrest the Black Death: The rats will run wild without their natural enemy.

Imagine two impoverished neighbors in my home state. The younger one is outright unemployed, long-term; a common enough occurrence here to need no specific explanation. The older lady is in direct physical distress of age, if not specific ailment, but at least has the financial resources of Social Security or something her dead husband left her. She needs basic care and light medical treatment as the case may be. Now the natural course, should the younger neighbor be able to provide something of the care needed by the older, is to convert her from unemployment to providing that care, and to convert a portion the consumer of care’s social security check into the relatively small payment needed to incentivize her to do this. In fact, this arrangement is so natural that it naturally occurs, almost constantly, and this is a huge problem in the eyes of the state. “Unlicensed care,” a scourge that must be stamped out. “No no no!” Says the state. “You lack all of the following qualifications required to provide care of that sort in this state!” “But the consumer cares nothing for those qualifications!” Answers back the evil nurse who dared, dared, to look after her neighbor without leave of the state. “And besides,” she continues, “She couldn’t possibly afford one of your approved nurses!”

That one hits home, and after some hemming and hawing about subsidies for nursing schools, perhaps forcing some other group to pay for a portion of the cost, and what the future budget might look like “once we’re out of this crisis,” the state decides to blame the problem on the budget-slashing Republicans and get back to work. The business of preventing people from providing for people must not be neglected, just because the state happens to be unable to provide for them at present.

“Regardless, the quality of care you provide is not, in our view, sufficient (though we have not inspected the care you provide, and could never fully do so, but merely rely on the presence or absence of some paperwork that could not possibly capture the full situation) for us to allow you to continue providing in-home care to your neighbor. Therefore here are our instructions to each of you: Younger neighbor, you go home, and continue being unemployed. Older neighbor, you go home and die alone unless you can come up with the money to afford professional, licensed care.”

The obvious outcry that results is met by the state, as it is by the Statist, with the claim that the state has a perfectly good solution for both of those problems, if we had just given them enough money to enact it. In the case of the unemployed woman (whom the state has not allowed to serve her neighbor), there is state unemployment insurance or state welfare. In the case of the the woman whom the state has not permitted to be helped, except through licensed, expensive channels, there is also a state institution to take care of her, and that is the coroner’s office. All is well! My bitter, Libertarian mind only tempts me to remark that we would not need to pay the state to introduce these inferior solutions had we not paid it to create the original problem. The risk of such care being provided badly (a real risk) is being replaced, once again, with the certainty of it not being provided at all. What is needed when there are too few nurses, too few schools, too few licenses, and too many sick people? What other practical solution could be had but a relaxation of the standard of care? If the burden of sickness and age is too great in scale for us to bear with our current resources, should we not recognize that scale help is needed, that free help is needed, that we need to worry first about getting great quantities of tolerable care provided, before we start actually preventing care in the name of quality? “This food is terribly unhealthy!” we may as well tell the starving, before destroying huge piles of bacon or fried potatoes before their eyes. If we could get them better food, to the point that they were all full and healthy, the substitution might be justified. But if the broccoli never comes to the starving, just as the licensed nurse never comes to the poor widow, shouldn’t we leave the poor their bacon and their free market in care? Moreover, even where the better thing is provided, why should we take away the “worse”? If it is really worse in the eyes of the consumer, they will not choose it. If the poor are given broccoli, that is no reason to take away their bacon, for they may prefer bacon. If the price of high-skilled nursing falls into the reach of the poor, or their insurance policies cover it, or what have you, that is no reason to ban low-intensity in home care, that is, to enforce a license requirement. The consumer may have a relationship with their neighbor that is of greater positive value in that situation than are the technical skills of the expert nurse. Their needs may be all of a low-acuity type that makes skilled nursing a waste of resources, and so its mandate by law would be destructive. More critically, the poverty of a community may be so intense (especially in a Statist utopia) that the resources to provide skilled nursing to all who need it are simply unavailable. In any of these cases, the type of care that is currently illegal is exactly what is needed, and is entirely positive in value. It covers shortfalls, reduces costs, and corresponds to needs in ways that the rigid rules of licensing make impossible in our protectionist society.

And why should such an innocent, and necessary, thing be illegal? Well it certainly has nothing to do with the political influence of the Nurses’ Union. Nor was it in any way intended to produce the enormous difference in wages between nurses and those in similarly skilled trades not requiring licenses. Nor is it consistent with the in-progress effort to increase the difficulty of obtaining a nurse’s license, thus further reducing the number of people available to perform specialized nursing functions…even as many more are able to perform these functions, aside from the license requirement. Nor can this policy of deliberate reduction in the number of nurses in any way be blamed for the epidemic of understaffing and overwork rampant in nursing facilities. Nor can the flat out unavailability of nursing care to those of limited means be traced back to the fewness of these nurses, and the policies which made them few. These policies are to protect the consumer; any other result must be just a coincidence.


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