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Experience Denied

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Jan Ellison is grateful for the low-wage jobs she had as a kid.

“The difference from the way my own children are being raised is that I was acutely aware of the financial burden of these [educational and other] pursuits. . . . I made money of my own from age 11 onward. I had a paper route. I cleaned houses and swimming pools. I took clerical temp jobs. . . . I can’t say that any of this was important work, but the act of doing it mattered.”

She learned to “work for the ticket” that would take her to better things.

That minimum wage laws make it harder to gain such experience is a problem raised not by Ellison but by a Cafe Hayek reader, Mike Wilson, who calls her memoir “as powerful a case against raising the minimum wage as I have encountered.” (Strictly speaking, against establishing or enforcing any wage-rate floor.)

Wilson’s sensible point is that when you’re just starting out in the work force, you must develop the habits and skills needed to do a job well and to then go beyond it. These include punctuality, mastering procedures, accepting corrections with grace, being civil, staying productive and careful when you’re tired, and more.

What you can bring immediately to a job is willingness to learn what’s necessary. But the higher your pay must be before you’ve made yourself worth that pay, the harder for employers to give you the chance to make yourself worth it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Uber Rebellion

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Customers in Germany and elsewhere have flouted irrational attacks on the popular ride-sharing service Uber.

As I have explained before, Uber’s software lets passengers and drivers connect in a way that bypasses regularly regulated taxicabs. Cabbies don’t necessarily oppose the innovation. Many see Uber’s app as a nifty way to get customers. And, of course, many riders see it as a nifty way to get rides.

But taxi dispatchers? Well, that’s another story.

At least it is in Germany, where an organization for dispatchers called Taxi Deutschland has kvetched that the San Francisco company lacks the Necessary Permits to do electronic dispatching in Deutschland. Thanks to TD’s loud complaints, a German court issued a temporary injunction against Uber, prohibiting it from conjoining ride-seekers and ride-givers in happy synchrony.

Uber decided to keep operating in the country anyway, despite the threat of huge fines.

They’ve gotten lots of moral support. In response to the injunction, customers quietly but firmly told regulators “Laissez nous faire!” — a.k.a. “You’re not the boss of me!” — by doubling, tripling and even quintupling demand for Uber’s app. Matthew Feeney of Cato Institute points to jumps in signups in the days following the court’s order: in Frankfurt a 228 percent jump, Munich 329 percent, Hamburg 590 percent.

Last July, in the U.K., Brits surged their signups eight times over after protests against the company.

Keep up the good work, rebels.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Help Airbnb Win in San Fran

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Whenever companies invent radical new ways of making life easier, there’s a good chance someone will kvetch about how hazardous the new way is and/or how rudely inconvenient for those wedded to old ways.

That’s true when it comes to smartphone apps that helps users buy rides outside the usual regulated-taxi context (as I’ve discussed here and here). It’s also true in the case of Airbnb, whose app connects renters and home owners.

Airbnb and other companies are fighting to reform San Francisco’s restrictive housing laws, which have helped inflict one of the most hellish housing markets in the country. The Fair to Share San Francisco website says that the town’s housing laws are “outdated” — which understates the case, since the strictures weren’t valid to begin with. Regulators prohibit San Francisco residents from subletting their residences for fewer than thirty days.

This makes things tough for an app designed to broker short-term rentals.

Airbnb has also been hassled in New York State, where it has been forced to turn over some data about its users to the attorney general as prelude to turning over even more data about users the AG decides may be breaking the law.

It is indeed unfair to outlaw you from peacefully using your own property as you wish. If you live in the San Francisco area, you can help change Fog City’s smoggy housing laws by signing a petition at the Fair to Share site.

Strike a blow for Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Original photo by Dave Alter, “Lombard Street San Francisco,” some rights reserved.

Google Mugged By Reality?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Google says health care is unhealthy.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has conducted what he calls a “fireside chat” with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In one much-cited passage, Brin observes that although he is excited about making gadgets like glucose-measuring contact lenses, health care, because “so heavily regulated,” is “just a painful business to be in. It’s not necessarily how I want to spend my time. . . . [T]he regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.” Page echoes his colleague.

A blunt, and fair, observation. But it makes one wonder why these super-entrepreneurs have not been more critical (at least so far as their search engine can tell me) of Obamacare, which multiplies mandates and prohibitions in the medical industry by an order of magnitude.

Top Google executives are known to be liberal in their politics, and presumably have been sincere. It seems, though, that reality is not cooperating with any ideological tilt they may yet harbor in favor of government paternalism.

It’s in fields with which a businessman is best acquainted that he is most likely to recognize the value of freedom — at least his own, if not always that of competitors. So perhaps we should hope that Brin, Page and other Google principals try to achieve something great in every industry there is. That way, they can come around to consistent, principled support for freeing markets.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Let Us Drive

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

How about letting us drive?

Who’s us? Passengers—taxi-ride buyers. Plus anyone else who participates in the market transactions that take us places.

Many Orlando, Florida cabbies are eager to work with the ride-sharing company that makes the smartphone app Uber. They’re tired of leasing cabs for $129 a day while scrambling for enough price-controlled fares to earn a decent living after paying that steep cost. Uber drivers provide their own car and let the firm’s technology connect them to customers. Uber gets 20 percent of fare revenue.

The politics are mostly hostile to the innovation in places like New York City where markets are mangled by super-high license fees and other regulations. The politics are also tough in Orlando, which has been cracking down on Uber drivers. But the mayor and Uber executives have been talking about a deal under which Uber could operate if it submits to . . . regulation. (Sigh.)

Cab companies in the City Beautiful expect to rapidly lose revenue if innovators like Uber and Lyft get to operate freely. But Orlando taxi drivers expect to gain.

“If you talk to 1,000 drivers,” says one, “950 will tell you they are going to Uber.” Says another: “Let Uber come here. It’s going to be good for the customer and the driver.”

Let them come. Also kill all regulations, including fare caps, that make it harder for cab companies to adapt. Let terms of trade be driven—regulated—by traders. Not by governments.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Greek Recipe for Disaster

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Several years ago, Despina Antypa and her husband worked at a leading newspaper in Athens.

Then came the economic crisis.

The bad news was “just a whisper” at first. But when friends began losing work, she had the foresight and discipline to plan a new career. One unrestricted by language or country — just in case they ever had to leave Greece. She chose pastry, taking classes every weekday for two years, practicing techniques on weekends.

Sure enough, in 2011 the couple lost their own jobs. Despina threw herself into the task of confecting a signature delicacy good enough to sell; some 3,000 trials and errors (“mostly errors”) later, she was satisfied.

Then came the work of developing a website, packaging, selling.

Orders poured in. The labors were paying off. Except that—

The business was killed in its crib by bureaucrats.

The Greek government demanded a lot, including

  • advance taxes equal to “50 percent of estimated profit in the first two years” (money never to be returned were the business to fail);
  • minimum square footage for her shop much greater than necessary; and
  • a separate toilet for walk-in customers (although there would be no walk-in customers).

The arbitrary burdens proved too great. In 2013, her husband got a job offer that meant moving to Brussels. They jumped at the chance. There they forged the new life they could have forged in Greece — had they been allowed to.

It seems that the road to recovery is not helped by hobbling the runners.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Abridge Too Far

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Sick and tired of “too much money” in politics? Worried the average citizen’s voice is being drowned out?

Thirty-six Democratic U.S. Senators have just the thing: a re-write of the First Amendment.

They’ve co-sponsored a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Senate Joint Resolution 19.

“We would give the power back to the Congress,” says chief sponsor Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).

Wait. That’s amending reality. Congress never had any such power. The instructions in the Constitution are quite clear: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”

These 36 solons reverse course with the wording

… Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on —

  1. the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and
  2. the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

Our brand new constitution would not contain a single word of restraint. Instead, powerful congressional incumbents would wield complete and total control over all money to be raised or spent by their competitors.

And note: they already enjoy a tremendous name recognition advantage over their challengers. What happens when incumbents limit campaign spending too low for challengers to compete?

Its negation of rights is so sweeping that the amendment actually states, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”

No worries for the New York Times, then. But just how much of the First Amendment do the rest of us get to keep?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.