I recently read an interesting article on NPR.org you can read here…
It’s about a writer’s experience at a Libertarian/Anarchist Summer Camp in New Hampshire. They have a camp set up with minimal government involvement. The point is that there is minimal regulation and taxes so as to set up a free trade environment.
It sounds fun, but I would be a little worried about any extremists there to take advantage. Nonetheless, I am all for limited government. Now I don’t know if the writer is knowingly left biased, but the article certainly is. He does, however, bring up an interesting issue within the article.
There is a vendor at the camp selling a bacon breakfast. His name is George and the pictures of that bacon breakfast make it look pretty delicious. As the writer is speaking with George, he interjects this in the article “But of course no government means no official inspection stating that George washes his hands or that he keeps his bacon cold.” I thought there was an interesting inference here which needed to be explored.
What can government do in an effort to protect us and what is the cause and effect of their protection methods?
I do have one core belief that people act on incentives. Whether that be positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or punishment… people act on incentives. George has a very large incentive NOT to poison his own customers. The government’s intervention is well intended but lets look at cause and effect with relation to incentive…
What can the government do? There are really 2 things… Inform and create laws. Unfortunately the latter seems to be the “go to option” in most cases. Let’s say that the government steps in and creates 4 laws to “protect” people from meat contamination… 1. All merchants selling bacon MUST wash hands before handling bacon 2. All bacon must be kept cold while storing 3. Pigs must be inspected for disease before going to be slaughtered, and 4. Vendors will be rated by government inspectors and their grade must be visible to the consumers. The consequences of breaking these rules are fines and potentially jail time.
OK, so now let’s say those laws are in place and George sells some contaminated bacon. The government fines George enough to have a huge impact on his business. This is where real issues start happening. George owns a business and the primary objective of that business is to make money. If he’s given specific rules to follow, his focus becomes adhering to the rules and NOT protecting his customers. Us as customers believe that we are safe now because he has to follow specific meat handling rules and will be penalized if he doesn’t. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple.
George’s business would of lost customers and imposed a “free market fine” as people learned about his contaminated bacon. He would no longer be seen as a trusted source for bacon and his business would most likely fail. The effect of the government fine(s) and lower rating takes away George’s resources to give customers quality meat, so what does he do? Well, probably what is most profitable, right? He sells on the black market. Sound ridiculous? Ever bought something from a friend directly? You made a purchase on the black market. Where I’m from in the Midwest, animals are slaughtered all the time and the meat is sold directly from butcher to consumer. Often times people confuse the black market and the free market. A black market is dangerous because there is no community openly discussing vendors, no press to discover hidden practices, and no protection of life, liberty, and property throughout the transaction. When government gets in the way, often times people go to the black market, they cut corners on the quality of the product or they hike up their own prices to adhere to rules that often times don’t even apply to them.
We as taxpayers lose because we pay the government to enforce these rules and regulations that serve no purpose but to perpetuate the growth of government. The customer loses because George is fined and needs to find a way to recoup his losses which means higher prices, lower quality or selling on the dangerous black market. Personal accountability and community communication lose because as laws are written, people research and discuss less about vendor reputations and product safety… there is just an assumption that government will protect us, which is an impossible task. The only one that wins is government. If their rules are imposed and there are still issues with meat contamination, government still wins because it will just create more laws which means more lawmakers and more enforcers. The taxpayers pay for this. George pays for this. I pay for this. You pay for this. These laws created to protect only cause harm. This seems to be an ongoing issue in many areas of government. There is an argument to be made for government stepping in when a third party could potentially be harmed, but I have yet to see government’s involvement within any consensual agreement between adults actually helping those it’s intended to.
Just let George sell the bacon. Let customers decide whether or not they want to continue buying. America was founded on the silly idea of Freedom which means the freedom to choose what’s best for us. This keeps the consumer safer and means less taxation over rules that don’t help anyone.