Mugged by regulation
By Scott Sumner
Government regulation is one of my biggest frustrations. Here are just three examples that hit our family, all in August.
1. A couple of weeks ago, I developed the worst toothache I’ve ever experienced. At times the pain was so severe I couldn’t concentrate enough to even read a book. The dentist I called wasn’t in his office (it was Sunday morning.) He recommended taking some Tylenol and/or Advil, which didn’t help much at all.
Back in 1900, I could have just walked to a nearby druggist and bought an adequate painkiller. In many respects our medical system has regressed since 1900, due to government regulation.
2. My daughter tried to buy some disposable contact lens online. At first things went fine. The seller contacted her eye doctor and confirmed the prescription was valid. But the next time she ordered contacts a problem developed; the eye doctor decided to be a jerk and insist on a new eye exam, even though she had recently had one. It seems that she’d switched from monthly wear to daily wear, of the exact same prescription. Of course this was merely a case of the eye doctor trying to earn extra money.
Back in 1900, these contact lens didn’t exist. But if they had, she would have been free to buy them without anyone’s permission.
3. My wife was trying to buy insurance for our house. Due to a California regulation, we were forced to insure the house at “replacement value”, which in our case is roughly the price we paid for it. Unfortunately, this “replacement value” is about 75% above the actual value of the house itself. This is because much of the value is in the land, which would not get destroyed in even the worst sort of fire.
And here’s what’s especially weird. We are under no obligation to buy any insurance at all. (We don’t have a mortgage.) California says it’s perfectly legal for us to not have any home insurance, but illegal to buy $800,000 of insurance on our home. Back in 1980, I could have legally bought the cheaper policy.
In addition, my wife must frequently deal with all sorts of hassles relating to private health insurance, which are ultimately caused by foolish government regulations.
It’s often claimed that conservatives are liberals who have been mugged, and liberals are conservatives who have been indicted. (BTW, President Trump’s remarks about his indicted friends often resemble the comments of far left extremists—i.e. suggestions that there is a deep state at the Justice Department, out to get people with heterodox political views.)
So why aren’t there more libertarians? My theory is that some types of evil are easy to see. If we’ve been mugged by a robber then we know who the villain is. But the cases above are more complex. Average people might not know their toothache is caused by government regulation; they might grumble that their dentist is not open on Sundays. They might complain that their eye doctor is being a jerk. Most people wouldn’t even know about the California insurance regulations, and just assume it’s an insurance company policy. Or they might forget that there is no need to insure land. People frustrated with private health insurance companies might wrongly blame capitalism, and even become more favorable to socialized medicine.
The best way to create lots of libertarians is not to explain to people that freedom is a “natural right”, it’s to show people how government regulation is constantly making their lives more miserable.