Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I sometimes think that when it comes to marketing the private sector lags the public. Politicians have an amazing ability to repackage old failed policies under new names and sell them back to an eager citizenry. Thomas Sowell says that this is because we often fail to distinguish stated objectives with what actually transpires:
Some of our biggest political fallacies come from accepting words as evidence of realities. "Rent control" laws do not control rent and "gun control" laws do not control guns.

The big cities with the tightest rent control laws in the nation are New York and San Francisco. The nation's highest rents are in New York and the second-highest are in San Francisco.

There is a very straightforward explanation for that. Strong rent control laws can bring residential building to a screeching halt. Once politicians have milked the political advantages of passing rent control laws, they have to avoid a backlash if all building of apartments stops.

That leads to an escape hatch in the rent control law. Luxury apartments with rents above a certain level are exempted. That leads to the shifting of resources away from building affordable housing to building housing that is unaffordable.

It is even more painfully obvious that "gun control" laws do not control guns. The District of Columbia's very strong laws against gun ownership have done nothing to stop the high murder rate in Washington.

New York had very strong gun control laws decades before London did. But the murder rate in New York has been some multiple of that in London for more than two centuries, regardless of which city had the stronger gun control laws at a given time.

Back in 1954, when there were no restrictions on owning shotguns in England and there were far more owners of pistols then than there were decades later, there were only 12 cases of armed robbery in London.

By the 1990s, after stringent gun controls laws were imposed, there were well over a thousand armed robberies a year in London. In the late 1990s, after an almost total ban on handguns in England, gun crimes went up another ten percent.
These are but two examples. We pass "stimulus" bills that only add to our debt. We place an embargo on Cuba that only helps to solidify the regime's grip on power. We prohibit drug use and thus foster the rise of crack cocaine.

Government actions sometimes remind me of "The Monkey's Paw" in which one is granted a wish, but only at a terrible price. Gun controls succeeds in reducing gun possession -- but only among the law abiding. We promote smaller and more fuel efficient cars -- that then result in more deaths. Rent control succeeds in limiting how much some people pay -- but then reduces the supply and quality of housing, driving up costs for others. Nationalized health care ensures that everyone has at least some access -- but then reduces overall quality.

When we look back at history we often see that many of the most successful policies involve not greater government involvement but less. Deregulation of the trucking industry reduced transport costs. Deregulation of the airlines produced more choices and lower costs for consumers. Reducing welfare benefits corresponded with a decrease in poverty and dependence.

Freedom, as opposed to government coercion, is not only the morally correct position, but also has the virtue of usually being more effective. Think about that the next time someone demands we pass a law to solve some perceived social ill.

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