If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anybody else again.” ― Malcom X
Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal” ― Murray N. Rothbard
Author’s Note: Thank you Professor F.E. Guerra-Pujol for your assistance with editing this op-ed piece. Your stylistic and grammatical recommendations have brought this essay to the next level.
Author’s Note: I submitted this piece to several local newspaper outlets. It appears as if none of these establishments have elected to publish my brief essay. It is possible that the my writing is a little weak. Even the topic is too technical or controversial.
I still applaud myself for attempting to take this on this issue in only 200-250 words ( Pinal Central: limit of 250 worded. AZCentral: limit of 200 words). This maybe a lesson to avoid issues that are overly complex when writing a letter to the local newspaper. Qualified Immunity requires more than 250 words to be properly addressed. I even had to cut references to William Baude’s 2018 paper on the subject.
That doesn’t mean I have given up, there is another local publication that publishes longer form editorials. After that I might give QI a rest, as I don’t want the content on this blog to become to stagnant.
The top photo has nothing to do with the topic at hand. The free photo application on WordPress was giving me some issues. So I decided to upload this photo I took back in April. I was walking my dogs around the neighborhood and thought the painted rock was interesting.
The death of George Floyd has left Americans with many questions. How did the police officer that killed Mr. Floyd still have a job after 17 previous complaints? How do we as a country combat police brutality? One potential solution may come from Representative Amash’s proposal to abolish Qualified Immunity. What is Qualified Immunity? It is a legal doctrine that protects government employees from being sued for performing essential job functions. Providing their actions do not violate any well-established rights.
The modern application of this legal status was defined by Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982). Establishing the need for clear “statutory” evidence that the plaintiff’s rights have been violated. Eventually evolving into the requirement for a previous case in which the details of the violation are identical. Leading to instances of constitutional violations with no restitution. One glaring example, Baxter V. Bracey (2014), where the suspect was attacked by a police dog after surrendering. These strict requirements make it nearly impossible to seek proper recourse when our civil rights have been infringed upon.
Most police officers are decent and law-abiding. Few would ever dream of using cruel or unnecessary tactics to subdue a suspect. The minority of bad cops need to be held fully accountable for their actions. The best way to do so would be eliminating institutional barriers to punishment.
To the perceptive reader, it is conspicuous that the title of the essay is a sarcastic quip. This is not intended to be a diatribe against a man who is no longer able to defend himself due to his passing last summer. Rather this is a pointed argument against those who fixated on the invested interests in the Libertarian movement. This critique isn’t just relegated to the Libertarian movement but, any ideologue that promotes laissez-faire economic policies. The core assumption being that such convictions can only be perpetuated by the motive of avarice. If you have faith in markets over government institutions you have either been bribed or manipulated by the wealthy businessmen that fund pro-market think-tanks. Such misconceptions are commonly echoed throughout American culture. Along with a litany of other anti-market biases plaguing the collective consciousness of the average citizen.
Advocates of free markets are not chess pieces or hand-puppets of the Koch brothers. The irony is that rarely do those who express skepticism of markets address the motives of those sowing anti-market bias. Making me wonder if they entranced under the spell of a community activist or a power hungry bureaucrat. Much like affluent businessmen the government administrators respond to incentives. I hardly doubt anyone chooses to head a government department or ascend to the upper ranks of union leadership for truly altruistic purposes. Odds are benevolence isn’t guiding them but power and money. Generally the same motives ascribed to successful entrepreneurs and investors. Why is the bureaucrat and the union leader automatically perceived as having purer intentions than the businessman? When both the upper tiers of the public and private sectors have the same incentives for advancement. The only difference is that the public sector is funded by tax dollars. This realization makes me wonder who is the one with the genuinely dogmatic views of markets? Unwavering faith in unions and government only being oriented towards “inherent good” is the definition dogmatic. Especially when you dismiss their salient agendas.
The myth of the grand network of Koch brother bribed academic institutions is on many grounds erroneous. For one, most establishments of higher learning lean left politically. The left-wing bias on college campuses is well documented. Only 9 % of surveyed faulty identified as being conservative . It is certainly disingenuous to pretend there is some crazy right-wing/Libertarian conspiracy spearheaded by the Koch brothers. In stark contrast to popular perception, George Mason was pro-market prior to receiving any Koch money. It should be noted that it is public knowledge that the Koch brothers donate to George Mason and its affiliated research institute the Mercatus center. A GMU faculty member wrote an opinion piece a few years back indicating that the donor relationship was “driven” by the economics department . The circumstances behind the donor relationship may be unique to this one school, there are litany of other organizations and schools that the brothers donate to. The very fact that the dynamics of this relationship veer away from what is popularly believed is imperative to understand. The notion of greedy billionaires are paying off professors to proliferate the theories of Hayek and Tullock evaporates in light of the truth.
Many of academic watchdogs shrieking in outrage over a pro-capitalist presence in higher education needs to realize/acknowledge they have their own donors as well. There are think tanks that range from advocating for comprehensive ideologues to single local issues. In other words, you have invested interest backing just about any political philosophy in existence. The odds that your cherished belief system is free of the influence of wealth donors is not only naive but inaccurate. If supporting a certain set of beliefs will not increase their bottom line it will aggrandize the donor in other ways (more political influence or power). At the very least money being a core motive is easy to understand intellectually and morally. The lust of for power is much more unsettling.
Surprise, surprise! Left-leaning think tanks have their own high profile mega donors. Few people (who operate on reason) are pontificating upon the conspiratorial machinations of these donors. This alone demonstrates a giant gulf in academic bias. If we have right-wing donors it is a crisis. If we have left-wing donors no alarms are raised. Which could lead one to believe such complaints are more partisan than a genuine concern for academic bias. Beyond the sheer hypocrisy, it may be usefully to examine the donations received by left-wing research institutes. For instance, the left-leaning Brookings Institute in 2019 received over 1 million dollars in donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Brookings Institute, 2019, P. 45) . In 2018, the Gates Foundations provided over 2 million dollars in donations to Brookings Institute (Brookings Institute, 2018, P. 45) . One could spend an innumerable amount of time collecting data linking the Gates foundation to a litany of various left-leaning institutions. It would only serve the same function of connecting the dots in a disjointed attempt to fabricate a conspiracy.
Regardless of your political propensities it is very likely there is a donor with deep pockets funding the cause. Even the populous right has their big time financial backers The Trump administration owes a great debt to the Mercer family in my humble opinion. Making the observation that the vast majority of Libertarian-leaning institutions is funded by the Koch brothers is aimless. It is merely reaching around in the dark in a last ditch effort to diminish the credibility of organizations such as the Mercatus center.This attempt is not only is a partisan assault it is futile. Most fact checking websites find the research and articles published by Mercatus to be factual . Does their ideological orientation really matter if they are publishing valid research? This leads me to believe contriving the narrative that the Koch brothers are pulling the strings on autonomous organizations is merely a desperate ploy to obscure facts that poke holes in anti-market rhetoric.
The arrogance displayed when such opponents claim that market orientated types of ordinary means have been “brain-washed” is awe inspiring. Most of these self-proclaimed “free thinkers” possess ideas that clearly did not originate from their own critical thinking. Sounds more like they are parroting the bombastic and hyperbolic talking points of labor unions, left-wing think tanks, community organizers, and liberal politicians. These folks are not re-inventing the wheel, but rather are regurgitating the agenda of invested interests. Interestingly enough what they claim those who are right-of-center are doing. In order to avoid a circular argument, I will not continue to direct such claims at those are skeptical and hostile towards free-market capitalism. In contrast, I will state that the diffusion of ideas is not an isolated process. Ideas are generated the accumulation of information presented through mediums of communication. We typically file it away mentally as being either being valid or invalid. From this we tend to form our worldview.
To assume that you are a free thinker and that the opinions and observations of others exerts no influence on your views is a delusion. At best, is a twisted and fractured piecemeal assembled form of relativism not fitting into a comprehensive philosophy. At worst, you are a devotee to a specific political philosophy, but are too blind to see this. The self-perception of being a “free thinker” is so compelling you are willing not ignore that you do belong to a tribe. For example, if you agree with 85 % of the Democratic party’s platform, you are a democrat. Anything else is an appeal to the bias of wanting to believe that you are more unique and individualistic than you truly are. Hence, my frustration with individuals who shelter themselves under the label of being an Independent. Are you truly independent? If all candidates and positions on one side of the fence are completely abominable and the other half of the divide is completely reasonable. Guess what… you are not an Independent. I would expect someone who is truly political independent to have more diversity in the policies they support.
The free thinker illusion provides a sense of sanctimony to anyone who wants to claim Libertarians and Conservatives are merely puppets of big business. One point that they tend to over look is that they anti-market types have donors with deep pockets. Also that their point of view has been carefully crafted by intellectuals on their side of the divide. Considering I am not a billionaire I must be mistaken or hoodwinked by these greedy interests. It isn’t that I have been inspired by F.A. Hayek, Gordon Tullock, Ludwig von Mises, etc. It was my gullibility that allowed me to be manipulated and then unwittingly become the mouthpiece for ideas that keep big corporations afloat. Maybe if I see the light I will see that error of my ways.
Prevailing conventional wisdom dictates that price gouging is immoral. During times of crisis to even contemplating raising prices is considered to be morally dissent. Especially in times of need, such as a pandemic of highly communicable disease. The act of price gouge tends to be a natural corollary of the most basic economic principles. Enacting price gouging laws is an attempt to circumvent resolute economic laws. Typically, in the name of “fairness”. Viewing it from the perceptive of pricing equality ignores the inner mechanics of market pricing. To interrupt this process generally leads to less than optimal results. In every regard, price gouging laws are merely price controls with a different name.
Various varieties of price controls have their ill effects well documented. One prime example being rent control measures. Which historically have shown to contribute to housing shortages and deteriorating conditions of impacted housing units (Bennett & DiLorenzo, 1985 P.69-71) . Typically, most people just look at the immediate impact of the policy. Which is it “stabilizes” housing prices. However, the downstream effects of housing shortages and landlords losing any incentive to regularly maintain their properties are not acknowledged. Price gouging laws yield similar effects.
Price gouging does perform necessary functions within the market. Operate as an informal safeguard against supply shortages of essential commodities. Most people are concerned with the here and now. The emotional vitriol of feeling ripped-off or the vendor having leverage supersedes economic reasoning. Per the research of economist Michael Munger, back in 1996 during Hurricane Fran, crowds appalled the arrest of several North Carolina price gouging vendors. These enterprising young men were selling ice at $8.00 per bag. Despite the jubilation of the crowd over their arrest, the potential patron still lined up intent on purchase $8.00 bags of ice (Munger, 2007) . Clearly demonstrating a disconnect between consumer perception and consumer behavior. If this price was truly inordinate no one would be lining up to buy ice.
For the rest of this essay will be dedicated to defending the actions of these aspiring entrepreneurs. As well as all other vendors who engage in the practice of price gouging. Price gouging has several critical functions in managing the market supply of essential goods. It discourages hoarding. It provides differential compensation to vendors and employees in times of crisis. Finally, it encourages the production of essential goods.
Price Gouging Discourages Hoarding:
Has anyone attempted to purchase toilet paper lately? Anyone who has walked down the paper products aisle (toilet paper, paper towels) has noticed an extreme scarcity of commonly available products. Making me question whether or not COVID-19 is truly a respiratory virus or another incarnation of cholera. My poor attempt at humor aside. It is evident that people are conspicuously stockpiling toilet paper. Toilet paper is a shelf-stable product that is relatively low in cost, making an ideal item for hoarding.
The means by which price gouging operates as a deterrent from an item being hoarded is simple. If the price is higher people will be less apt to purchase excessive amounts of the good . This function becomes more imperative as inventory for essential items starts to dwindle . This premise is clearly compatible with the Law of Supply and Demand. If there a large spike in the demand for a specific item the market price will reflect this accordingly. If there is a law in place holding retailers to maintain the pre-crisis price of toilet paper shortages are inevitable. Naturally lower prices will encourage more consumption regardless of the scarcity of the item. Causing decreased availably and even shortages ( Lee, 2015, P.13) . Higher prices are the natural consequence of an influx in demand. The higher prices serve as a means of regulating supply.
While advocates of keeping prices fair have good intentions, they are typically ill-informed. Price gouging is not a perfect mechanism, it does disadvantage the poor. The question becomes is it better to have expensive toilet paper or no toilet paper. Most people would agree that expensive toilet paper is preferred. Some would suggest keeping the prices on par with pre-pandemic pricing and just impose purchasing limits. A vendor implemented purchasing limit is not full-proof. Is minimum wage enough of an incentive to encourage employees to enforce such company enacted policies? I would surmise not. Government sanctioned price controls would create supply shortages. This presents a similar situation to the rent control example presented previously.
Compensating Differential to the Vendors:
All because we are in the midst of a national emergency doesn’t mean that incentives fall by the wayside. If anything incentives become more important, especially if vendors are facing substantial risks by providing goods and services. To quote Adam Smith:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. (Smith, 1776, P.25) .
The message behind this excerpt from The Wealth of Nations is quite clear. No one sells goods or services for the sake of charity. Most vendors are attempting to make a profit. Prices fluctuate with market demand. However, in instances where there is bodily harm for providing the same goods and services, it is reasonable to expect to pay more. As previously mentioned this isn’t charity. The consumer is simply transferring the risk to the vendor. By expecting them to endure the risks inherent in a natural disaster or outbreak of deadly disease. Through braving such dangers I believe a compensating differential is justifiable. Which essential is additional compensation for offsetting undesirable aspects of a specific job, such as bodily harm . Vendors also take on other risks as well. In the instance of a natural disaster, there are additional logistical considerations. Such as damaged infrastructure and lack of utilities (electricity, running water, etc). Beyond that vendors also take on legal risks. Potential fines for violating shelter-in-place orders (Giberson, 2011, P.6) .
The additional profits for enduring risk are what will incentivize entrepreneurs to continue to provide goods and services. It is a fact that is rarely brought up in a debate concerning the morality of price gouging. Even if you find the decision of business owners to raise prices to be distasteful, consider their employees. Business owners are going to have to pay their employees more to weather such dangerous conditions. If you still believe that price gouging is spurred by greed, remember that most business owners have employees. The hourly employees enduring such conditions need adequate compensation.
Price Gouging Encouraging Production:
Higher prices not only encourage entrepreneurs to endure more risks but also stimulates production. The incentives of increased profits persuade actors throughout the supply chain. If the price of hand sanitizer goes up exponentially this may persuade companies to divert production. Such as distillery switching from producing liquor to hand sanitizer . If demand for hand sanitizer outpaces that of vodka it would be shrewd to reallocate resources in the direction of market demand. These adjustments in production are swayed by the potential for higher margins.
Market prices are the explicit quantification of information. They operate as a signal to the consumer as well as the producer. As was mentioned previously high prices convey short supply to the consumer. Hence why price gouging guards against hoarding. In a Hayekian sense, we are contending with imperfect market information (Zwolinski, 2008, P.16) . If we do not have direct knowledge of the supply of toilet paper or hand sanitizer, what is going to entice us to produce it? The high prices direct production towards essential goods. Craft distilleries are now transitioning to producing hand sanitizer due to the high prices . The high prices are a direct result of the high demand. The high prices convey the toll that overall demand has taken on the supply (Zwolinski, 2008, P.17) . Pricing operating as a signaling mechanism operates as an indicator of how resources are to be best allocated. Government intervening on moral grounds can only cause more issues. The asymmetry in market information makes it impossible for a top-down solution to make pricing more equitable.
Despite the conventional view of price gouging, it does play a vital role in managing the supply of essential goods in times of emergency. It stifles hoarding. It provides just compensation to vendors for assuming the risk and other logistical hardships in crisis conditions. It operates as a signaling model for resource allocation. Spirited repudiations of the practice are well-intentioned but misguided. No one likes to feel ripped off. No one likes to see people who are disadvantaged suffer. However, there are justifiable reasons for the sharp increase in prices.
The jubilation of the crowd after the gentlemen selling ice (back in 1996) were arrested is understandable. Much like the advocating for fair pricing, this reaction is based upon faulty assumptions. Typically is indicative of anti-market bias. Which is defined as “a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of the market mechanism” . Anti-market bias explains the amount of class envy and undue contempt aimed at the wealthy. This is also the narrative that fuels a lot of the irrational and debunkable claims about labor unions. Certain regulations and even specific forms of taxation. It is easy to be outraged by higher prices. It takes more effort to attempt to understand why prices are so steep.
As it is now 2020, an election year, it is increasingly important that we examine the empty promises of aspiring politicians. The drive to socialize medicine under the friendly veneer of “free healthcare”. To witness the glories of government healthcare all you need to do is step foot in a VA hospital. The inefficiencies and low quality of care are painfully apparent.
However, our neighbors to the north in Canada have socialized medicine. Surely Canadian patients are receiving better care than we are in the United States! Not so. Per the Fraser Institue, the median wait time to receive treatment from a specialist was 21.2 weeks in 2017. A 113 percent increase in the wait time for treatment in 1993. While there are many things that are admirably about Canada, their healthcare system isn’t one of them.
The increased interval of the wait times to receive treatment is one consideration that is largely ignored by the advocates of Universal healthcare. It looks great on paper but ultimately fails in implementation. I am only addressing the allocation of services, I am not even venturing into the challenges of funding such a massive program. A policy based upon good intentions, but that doesn’t mean it will work.