Economic Freedom Isn’t Just a Right Wing Issue

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Economic freedom for some reason codes as a right wing concern, but everybody has a stake in this. From Masha Gessen’s awesome Slate piece on how their time in Russian prison has turned the Pussy Riot members into prisoners’ rights advocates:

No one knows the exact figures, but human rights advocates estimate that more than 15,000 and possibly more than 100,000 of Russia’s roughly 700,000 inmates are entrepreneurs sent to jail by competitors or extortionists. And then there are the political prisoners, a population that is growing despite recent high-profile pardons. Opposition activists are arrested seemingly at random; many of them are not leaders but ordinary grassroots activists or even one-time participants in a demonstration.

We take this for granted, but it’s awesome that we live in a country where you can start a business, and if people like what you’re selling better than what’s on offer from the established players, there’ll be a peaceful transfer of market power.

That doesn’t mean it’s all good though. Our taxi regulator, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, kicked ride-sharing start-up Sidecar out of Philadelphia last year for trying to offer a short-term rental service they said was too much like what taxi fleet owners do. The taxi fleet owners have a government-granted monopoly on street hails, that’s rationed by 1750 taxi medallions created by the state of Pennsylvania.

We have more freedom than Russia in that taxi fleet owners can’t just bribe PPA to throw the Sidecar folks in jail for creating a business that challenges the current market winners. But we still don’t have enough economic freedom where people are allowed to choose Sidecar over traditional taxis.

The progressive interest here is in cheap mobility on-demand that allows more people on the low end of the income scale to get by without owning an expensive personal car. The tool we have to use to get there is the dread *free market*, but nowhere does it say liberals can’t ever use the market tool to win more progressive outcomes. Ask any Democratic politician and they’ll tell you all about why the market economy is great. They’re not Marxists.

The people who ruin this for everyone are those who think markets are the only tool, and that market outcomes are always fair and just. The reality is that governments shape markets, as in the taxi example, and sometimes they write the rules to funnel all the money to a handful of rich guys like the taxi medallion owners or the liquor license holders.

This entry was posted in Economy.

10 Responses to Economic Freedom Isn’t Just a Right Wing Issue

  1. jkudler says:

    Do you know Dean Baker’s (free) book, Loser Liberalism?

  2. Jon Geeting says:

    Yep, loved it. Actually text-linked to it in with “funnel all the money to a handful of rich guys”

  3. jkudler says:

    Oops! Sorry, I missed that.

  4. GDub says:

    Its hard to be against something that makes French cab drivers this upset:

    That said, it feels like something is missing from the debate. Part of the concerns with public transportation (to include livery/cabs) is ensuring a minimum level of service/uniformity of service/uniformity of price–which in part is bargained through the medallion system, at the likely cost of shortages of supply at key times.

    In this sense, cabs (at least in this system) have something in common with the way utilities are regulated. We don’t want a pure free market system that requires someone in a poor neighborhood to pay extra for the “privilege” of being dropped off at home at night. And we probably don’t want fares fully negotiated at airports, etc., where feelings of being cheated damage business climates. I’d be interested to see how such systems guard against these outcomes.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I think this would all be fixed if Uber gave all the proceeds from surge pricing to their drivers. It’s harder to get mad at drivers than a faceless company, and the prospect of a huge payday would entice more drivers on the road, limiting how high the surge price will go.

      The medallion shortage problem could potentially be fixed by a medallions-to-population formula, so medallions grow with the population. We should be having a debate about how many cabs per people are really needed, and then setting the number of medallions at that target level, to grow or shrink with the population, if we’re going to have a medallion system. Personally I think the peer-to-peer car rental programs like RelayRides are eventually going to undermine the whole concept of a taxi cab market because it eventually won’t make sense for a company to have a huge fleet of cars. The fleet will be other people’s cars, which tend to be parked 23 out of 24 hours a day.

  5. “Economic freedom for some reason codes as a right wing concern”

    I can’t imagine why- oh yeah, the left wing is constantly removing economic freedom. The PPA is right in line with left wing policies.

    But its good to see someone start to realize that the left wing’s policies only protect the people in power, and only keep down the “peons”.

    Welcome to freedom, my friend.