Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Playing the game

As an advocate of the free-market it saddens me to read things like this article on Internet gambling legislation. Now, it's not so much that Congress is trying to prohibit nothing more than a mere vice - I expect such things from those who see it as their duty to mold the masses into good little citizens.

What really saddens me about this article is the following quote from the gaming industry representative
"It has to be able to be properly regulated and controlled. If it is we'd be interested," said Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., the gaming association's president, of online gambling.
This quote upsets me because it comes from the industry representative and he is asking for regulation.

Now I am not so naive to think that this is the first time such a thing has occurred. This happens more often than most people think. In fact, in the so-called Progressive Era this sort of thing happened all the time. What the gaming association wants is for its members to be free from offshore competition. They don't mind regulation just as long as they get to influence the regulators, and Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. is a longtime Washington insider who knows how to play the game (pun intended).

I guess it just upsets me when I see those who reap the benefits of the free-market ask for its abrogation.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sign of the times

Reading the Raleigh News and Observer this morning I came across some letters to the editor in which people were complaining about billboards along the highways. These people seem to be upset that this practice is actually allowed. The basic complaint was that the natural beauty of North Carolina is being spoiled, and that we as citizens have the right to drive the highways without having our view obstructed by garish signs.

Maybe it's because I grew up in an area where billboards were somewhat ubiquitous, but I've never had a problem with signs lining the highways. I've definitely never thought that I had some natural right to a scenic view while I was driving. Of course, that doesn't mean that I don't find some signs ugly or inappropriately placed. I just don't see how my aesthetic tastes trump the property rights of others.

One of the writers quoted a court ruling saying that billboards don't have a "right to be seen." Well, besides the fact that billboards don't have any rights, what right does the letter writer have to an unobstructed view of the countryside during their commute? While an individual or company may not have a right to have their billboard seen, they do have property rights and the right to contract with owners of roadside property.

Having said all that, I wonder how the Rothbardian homesteading principle would apply? I'll leave that for another time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tax cut-a-phobia

The Raleigh News & Observer on Sunday had an editorial outlining what the North Carolina Legislature should NOT do with the $2 billion surplus. Of course, tax cuts were the bugaboo to be avoided.

After complaining about a "host" of human services programs that are "running on fumes" we get this gem
"let's hope that political expediency put to the music of a siren song doesn't prompt legislative leaders to 'spend' the surplus by going overboard with various tax cuts."
Did you get that? Tax cuts are spending, but allocating that money to the host of human services programs that are running on fumes is not to be considered spending. They later question whether tax cuts can withstand another downturn in the economy. Are we to believe that if this money is spent on government programs there will be no ill effects in a bad economy? Shouldn't we look to reduce spending so that government isn't mired with additional burdens in the next economic downturn?

They give cutting the gas tax short shrift by claiming that oil companies would keep any savings. Besides the obvious appeal to emotion, this is bad economics. The money would most likely go, in the short run, into the pockets of the gas station owners who would be encouraged to purchase more supply, thereby lowering prices in the long run.

They end the article by asking legislative leaders to "show a little restraint." Yes, please do...and give me back my money!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Impact fees

There is a debate going on in the Triangle regarding impact fees and their effect on curbing growth. The argument posed by many, including former Cary mayor Glen Lang, is that newcomers should be footing the bill for the new schools, roads, and infrastructure. Lang even argues that it is a case of basic economics where those who benefit should bear the costs. While I am all for people paying for the services they consume, taxing developers seems like a very poor way to accomplish this goal.

Impact fees don't directly raise the cost of a house like many people like to think. If Glen Lang wants to talk about basic economics he should understand that supply and demand determines prices, and that imposing taxes only raises the cost of production. Some developers will be able to absorb this new cost but others won't. Supply of housing will shrink and prices will rise. Yes, this may curb growth, but it will also raise prices for existing residents who may be looking to move into a larger home.

If the argument is that we want people to bear the costs of the services they consume then why don't we make parents bear the full costs of schooling their children? Why not let roads and infrastructure be built by the same developers who build the surrounding communities? Why must the city and county governments be the middleman?