Everyone’s A Rent-Seeker, Taxicab Edition

A year ago I wrote about the crazy, over-regulated New York City taxicab industry. Well, things are getting even crazier.

There’s a new rush of start-up competition, led by Uber, whose high-tech mobile app lets riders request luxury rides on demand instead of frantically trying to wave down a passing cab. It costs more than a cab, but the convenient experience seems to be immensely popular, and Uber has been slowly expanding to more and more cities.

Of course, the existing taxicab industries, already used to protective regulations in many cases, don’t like the competition, and there have been varying volleys and setbacks in recent months as established players have tried to put up, er, roadblocks to keep the new kids out.

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Fuel Efficiency Standards and a Hyperactive Government

Yesterday Obama announced new fuel efficiency standards that “mandate an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon” by 2025. This is the sort of arbitrary government intervention that hits all the libertarian buttons – distorting the market, deceiving consumers, enhancing the corrupt link between big businesses and big government – although I have to admit it’s likely that it won’t make things worse and may even make them better. However, the mandate does illustrate how the government is so hyperactively involved in so many things these days that an attempt to fix something with one hand may break something it’s already fixing with another hand.

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Nanny Nudger Strikes Again!

Just a couple months after banishing 32-ounce sodas from select establishments in New York City, the Nanny Nudger – aka Mayor Michael Bloomberg – is at it again. This time the man wants to nudge mothers into breastfeeding their newborns at the hospital by hiding bottles and scolding women who ask for them.

After all, science agrees that breastfeeding is best! Besides, they’re not really banning the bottles for mothers that need or really want them… they’re just making them harder to get. This will make more women breastfeed and lead to healthier children!

Of course, these results will come at a slight cost to personal freedom and responsibility. Mayor Bloomberg seems intent on proving old libertarian rhetoric about health care: the more the government pays your medical bills, the more the government will try to get you to do things to lower those bills. There are three problems with this.

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The Right To Drink Unhealthy Soda

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban soda. Well, except for sizes 16 ounces and smaller. And all sizes in grocery stores. And diet sodas and fruit juices. But if you’re a cup of 32 ounces of Coke in a movie theater, Bloomberg wants to get rid of you.

“Nanny Bloomberg” has already done things like ban smoking in parks and restaurants and ban “artificial trans fat in restaurant food,” but apparently those haven’t done enough to increase the health of the city, where over half of the citizens are allegedly obese or overweight.

You might think it would be smarter for Bloomberg to go the California route and increase taxes on soda to at least make some money while they’re making people healthier. Actually, he already tried to get a state tax on soda, but it was rejected. So he came up with this new plan that conveniently just has to be approved by a board of people who were all appointed by him! (Brilliant system of checks and balances you got there, NYC.)

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The Right To Work On A Farm

An article from The Daily Caller has been storming the Internets this week. The Obama administration’s Department of Labor was reportedly planning to “prevent children from doing farm chores” by applying child labor laws to children working on family farms, prompting lots of outrage from lots of people. (I’m glad I waited my self-imposed 48 hours before commenting on new controversy, as it now seems that the administration “withdrew” the proposed rule after the outcry. The reversal happened almost as fast as last year’s Christmas tree tax.)

Was Obama trying to lose the rural vote? Heaven forbid children have the opportunity to learn responsibility and work ethic – they might learn they can get by without the federal government guiding their every step! Maybe the government doesn’t want kids helping out on the farm because that’s not taxable! What kind of country are we living in where parents increasingly allow their children to do irresponsible things while the government is actively clamping down on responsible options?

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Taxes and the Slow War on Law-Abiding Citizens

I finished my taxes last week. By “finished,” I mean I completed the steps on the H&R Block website and accurately checked boxes and filled inputs to the best of my ability based on my understanding of the terms presented. But it sure is complicated, especially now that there’s a house involved; good thing vehicle property taxes don’t start for us until next year.

But it’s not just getting worse for me as I get older; it’s getting worse for everyone. This graphic about the length of federal tax law was going around the Internet the other day:

Federal Tax Law PagesThat’s a stunning growth rate (even with the inconsistent Y-axis), and every year around this time we hear calls for tax reform. Fareed Zakaria had a good post on CNN the other day:

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I Am Altering the Contraception Deal

I am altering the contraception deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.

RECAP: The words “Obama” and “birth” have been in the headlines again, but this time it has nothing to do with that silly certificate. If you missed all the action, a couple weeks ago Kathleen Sebelius, head of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration, announced that employers who provide insurance to their employees would be required to include birth control in those plans, at “no extra cost” (in quotes because the cost always gets spread out somewhere). This contraception mandate included an exemption for religious organizations like churches, but not religious organizations with non-religious services – like Catholic hospitals. Well, that really ticked off the Catholic Church, which officially denounces birth control even though evidence suggests that most of their members use it anyway. Conservatives got riled up about Obama’s attack on religious freedoms, and even some Democrats started defecting. Then yesterday Obama announced that they were tweaking the mandate to honor religious freedoms by way of a technicality where the religious organization doesn’t have to provide the service to its employees but the insurance provider has to contact the employees directly to offer it – at “no extra cost.” Or something like that.

It’s been rather dismaying for me to read the comments in the news articles about this, as most people just attack the Catholic Church and/or general conservatives for being hypocritical or hating women or being against birth control. But those attacks completely miss the broader points, which some conservatives have been dutifully trying to explain. Ross Douthat wrote about the false liberal assumption that government is the only thing we “choose to do together” and how this mandate is an example of government trying to crowd out voluntary community efforts: “It is Catholics hospitals today; it will be someone else tomorrow.” Douthat also gave a smack-down to Kevin Drum’s assertion that it’s OK because it’s “a matter of conscience only for a tiny number of men in the formal hierarchy of the Catholic church.” John Cochrane says “Insurance is a bad idea for small, regular and predictable expenses.” Sonic Charmer says BYOFS: “Buy Your Own Freaking Stuff.” Tim Carney has been leading the charge on Twitter: “Hey, I’ve got my own compromise: We don’t prohibit you from buying contraception, and you don’t prohibit us from NOT buying it!”

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What’s In A Name: How the Government Invites Definition Lobbyists

There’s been an interesting topic showing up in the Google News headlines for the last couple of days. The “experts” at the American Psychiatric Association are considering changing the definition of autism, which probably means that many people “would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services.” Naturally a lot of people are concerned about losing access to these services. I haven’t been able to figure out yet exactly what kinds of services these articles are talking about, whether it’s private (like insurance) or public (like government programs) or some of both (probably), but it’s interesting how definitions are becoming so important these days, especially as they seem to endlessly and arbitrarily change.

Last month our government decided that X-Men are not humans. For reasons unbeknownst to me, our tariff laws dictate that “the import tax on dolls is twice what it is for toys.” Well, the makers of X-Men action figures wanted to pay the lower rate, so their lawyers fought the customs office to argue that X-Men weren’t humans so they could be charged the toy rate instead of the doll rate, and “the court found that mutants are not human.” (Of course, this caused a fun and ironic storm in the comic world since a key part of the X-Men story is that the mutants are trying to convince the government that they are human, or at least that they deserve the same rights.) None of this would have mattered at all if we didn’t have laws that allowed a bunch of money to be hinged on the definitions of “doll” and “toy.” If there was no import tax, or even if it was just the same for dolls and toys, we would never have had to force a court to waste time making a decision on the humanness of X-Men.

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The Right To Use A Cell Phone And Drive

On December 13, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended “a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving.” The recommendation comes after a high-profile incident in my own state of Missouri where texting led to a crash that involved a tractor trailer and two buses. Now it’s not unusual for the government to want to increase regulation when something big and terrible happens; people generally expect their government to prevent big and terrible things from happening. But does this justify a nationwide cell phone ban? Let’s consider.

First, there is a valid case for such regulation. Some libertarians might bash the NTSB’s call for a ban as regular old government power-grabbing, but there is a legitimate negative externality here. You could be driving down the road, minding your own business and following all traffic laws, and a distracted cell-phone-wielding driver could plow right into you. Few people seem to have issues with drunk driving laws; why wouldn’t you want to be protected from the negative externality of someone crashing into you?

Well, when we discuss whether or not the government should get involved in trying to prevent a negative externality, there are two things we should consider. Is the negative externality big enough to worry about, and is the government likely to make it better? I believe the answer to both questions is NO with about a 90% certainty.

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Top 16 Links About SOPA

I just did a post about the latest developments in the SOPA battle, but as it may become quickly outdated, I thought I’d do a post summarizing some of the most important links that are being shared around the Internet. Some of the links provide summaries of the while the bill is so dangerous and what has unfolded already, and some of the links are good places to keep up-to-date on what will unfold in the future. Feel free to add other important links in the comments.

The Dangers of SOPA

1. Washington Post: Everything you need to know about Congress’s online piracy bills, in one post. I don’t think it’s really everything (thus the 15 other links), but it’s a good place to start and it summarizes the bill(s) without sounding paranoid about anything.

2. Forbes: How SOPA Could Ruin My Life. A post from a small business owner concerned that SOPA could destroy a website that provides his income.

3. TechDirt: How SOPA 2.0 Sneaks In A Really Dangerous Private Ability To Kill Any Website. TechDirt explains how a new amendment to the bill makes it even worse.

4. TotalBiscuit: WTF is SOPA ? aka The American Government trying to ruin the internet. A UK Law graduate goes to YouTube to explain the dangers of this bill. It’s long (21 minutes) but pretty informative (especially if you don’t like reading or do like British accents). It’s getting shared around Twitter like crazy right now and has acquired over 1 million views in less than two days.

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