Friday, June 22, 2007

Disco Lives!

Perhaps 30 years is long enough that our collective memory fades. For those of you who don’t remember the 1970s, go online or to dead-tree publications to learn about how really bad things were in the Ford-Carter years. I worked on Capitol Hill at that time, and President Ford’s decision to sign a truly awful energy bill probably was one of the things that doomed his Presidency. The same thing can be said about President Carter’s continuation of those policies. The buzzword now is “price gouging.” That’s very clever. Who can say they are in favor of price gouging, especially if one is a Christian? Well, I will come close. Binding price controls, especially on a market such as energy, distort markets, lead to long lines and other bizarre rationing processes, discourage productive investment activity that might actually solve the underlying problem, promote political and private corruption, and generally torque-over the people they are supposedly designed to help. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that refutes anything I have just said, and to believe that the Bible does refute what I have said is the equivalent of misreading the Bible to argue that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. If you are a Christian and you are in favor of the mess that goes with binding price controls, that’s fine, but don’t count on using either economics or biblical scholarship to deny the likely consequences.

Let me just make one further comment on how disastrous price controls can be. One of our big problems in dealing with health care in this country is the large extent to which our health insurance plans are tied to our places of employment. One of the roots (although not the only one) of this unfortunate situation is the extent to which benefits (such as health insurance) were used as a way to get around wage controls during the World War II era. This distortion continues to cause us problems over 60 years later.

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