Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Owners, Sellers, and Barriers

Incumbent producers and politicians have much in common

Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs,jobs, jobs.

If you filter out the nastiness and histrionics of many politicians, you'll hear the word repeated like a mantra: how many jobs they created in the past or how many they'll create in the future with this important piece of legislation. Except that it's wrong: the economy is too complex, broad, and dynamic for piecemeal policies.

Conservative initiatives typical favor owners of capital, that is, physical assets such as money, land, and facilities. Progressive initiatives tend to focus on labor: workers and the fruits of their efforts. Occasionally the incumbent interests of capital and labor align to form a barrier to newcomers: big city cab companies and drivers often come together to resist change and the rise of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

These barriers also get enforced by governments through regulation and licensing. The Jones Act regulates commerce between American seaports requiring the use of American owned and crewed ships; the result is higher costs for producers (making them less competitive with fewer jobs) and higher prices for consumers (essentially a tax). Another barrier is occupational licensing as Sam Fleming reported in today's Financial Times:
America’s obsession with occupational licences sits awkwardly with the country’s reputation for free market capitalism, but a quarter of US workers require a licence to do their jobs ... While some licences are undoubtedly needed – in fields ranging from healthcare to air travel – the hazards prevented by licensing florists and interior designers are less obvious.
Matt Yglesias reports on Vox that President Obama has "requested the creation of a small grant program to help states study the impact and implications of their licensing regime."

These are but two examples of anti-competitive policies where politicians have hurt job creation at the behest of those already in business and working. So instead of jobs, politicians should focus on competition that gets consumers the greatest number of choices at the lowest possible price. Consumer power and interests are diffuse: there will always be many more consumers than producers and consumers will always buy many more types of goods than any one producer makes.

Incumbent producers lobby politicians and contribute to their campaigns to restrict consumer choice, keep prices high, and maximize economic rent. Incumbent politicians codify mechanisms that restrict ballot choice, constrain voters, and maximize their longevity: it's called gerrrymandering.