The Free Market Saved Me From the UN

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This
past week I had the unfortunate experience of attending a business
conference in NYC at the same time as a gathering of the UN
goons. Like all government organizations, I usually do my best to
studiously ignore them in the hope that they will return the favor
(the former is marginally more successful than the latter). This
time however, there was no possible way for me to ignore them.

It
was truly a surreal sight to behold: every two-bit third-world dictator
— accompanied by his preening, garishly-clad entourage — posing
for photo opportunities all day at the premiere NYC hotels
(no doubt their expenses paid for by our hard-earned tax dollars
and easily-inflated money supply!), while the rest of us working
stiffs rushed around roadblocks and security patrols, trying to
go about our business in order to pay our own way, and to support
our families, in addition to carrying on our backs the full weight
of the “multitude of New Offices and swarms of Officers sent to
harass our people and eat out of our substance.”

The
UN delegates made it abundantly
clear
who exactly are the civil servants and who the masters:

Streets
will be closed. Armored motorcades will glide by as commuters
sit fuming in stationary traffic. Snipers on roof-tops will
remind New Yorkers that they are a constant target.

Our
Masters unveiled a very expensive propaganda effort:

The
U.N. launched a big [$4mil] advertising campaign last week to
persuade the people of New York that the summit would be worth
it, with posters such as: “Everyone’s a delegate because the
outcome affects us all.”

Seeing
surprisingly clearly through the implied collectivist “we” in the
above statement, the media
for once cut through the Orwellian fog:

Local
television channels urged New Yorkers not to take that too literally.
“Avoid the area” was the main message.

Broken
Windows Galore

U.N.
officials
say the organization’s presence contributes $3.2
billion to the economy of New York, but that has not stopped
tensions over everything from unpaid parking tickets to plans
for building a new headquarters.”

Of
course, this ignores all the unseen effects on the NYC economy
and the country as a whole, including but not limited to the taxes
and inflation to pay for this meretricious event, the lost time
and business due to traffic gridlock and enhanced “security” measures,
and any lost freedoms that result from “breakthroughs” in the UN's
political gridlock

The
man
on the street
shows uncommon good sense when it comes to analyzing
the Summit:

Jerry
Niforatos, a Greek-born New Yorker who runs a diner frequented
by U.N. staff on Manhattan’s East Side, said the increased security
and warnings to the public to keep away meant business was not
seeing much of a boon from the summit.

He
was also skeptical about the value of the gathering.

“They’re
going to talk and they’re going to go,” he said with a shrug.
“Every year the same thing.”

Jimmy
Konkowski, 34, a truck driver for a removal company, was making
the most of the quiet before the storm.

“I
think it’ll get worse tomorrow,” he said on Tuesday, adding
that he was more concerned about rising gas prices than anything
the politicians were discussing at the U.N.

“I
have no idea what it’s about,” he said of the summit.

What,
you may ask, bothered me most about the UN invasion of NYC while
I was trying to conduct my business? Was it the blatant unconstitutionality
of the entire affair? The jack-booted sniper thugs perched on the
rooftops prepared to pick off American citizens in order to protect
foreign and domestic tyrants? The rampant fraud and corruption?
The long, drawn-out history of complete and utter failure on the
part of the UN?

None
of the above. For me, the most infuriating part by far was the wait
for the taxi cabs. Like any gentleman — to use the term loosely
— I pride myself on arriving at scheduled meetings on time, if not
earlier — this is common courtesy. I allotted sufficient time to
catch a cab and ride it to my destination, plus ample leeway — on
a normal day. Unfortunately, this was not a normal day and I didn't
allow for the UN effect. I could not for the life of me hail a taxi
cab.

Don't
get me wrong: I'm from Boston, and therefore I fully understand
the practical supply/demand dynamics of the taxi guild. Believe
me, I'm used to waiting for cabs. Boston is the third most expensive
and arguably least efficient cab system in the nation, due entirely
to our draconian municipal government's intrusions on the free market
through the use of medallion rationing and other regulations designed
to discourage competition.

Allow
me to briefly recap
how the chronically short-staffed taxi system works in Boston:

From
1930 until today, Boston has issued only 40 new taxi permits
from the original ceiling of 1525 medallions. That occurred
in 1992 to allow 40 handicapped accessible vehicles to operate.
Applications for an additional 300 medallions were submitted
nearly two years ago, but there are no plans to process new
applications, according to an officer working in the hackney
unit. Approximately 300 of the existing medallions are equally
divided between two fleets — Checker and Town — with another
267 operating as Boston Cabs. Many of the remaining medallions
are limited to operators under the Independent Taxi Owners Association.
As a result of the restricted entry, countless qualified individuals
have been denied the right to earn a living in a business ideally
suited to entry-level entrepreneurs.

Boston
is the same economically-savvy city that then tried to impose
price ceilings on taxis during the DNC
(for delegates only,
of course!), due to the outrageously expensive cabs caused by government
intervention in the first place!

At
issue are the taxi vouchers the DNC wants to give to delegates
arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport. Under the DNC’s proposal,
taxi drivers would be required to accept the vouchers, worth
$12 per passenger, in lieu of payment, even though the meter
fare from Logan into the city, including tolls and an airport
surcharge, is typically over $40. To add insult to injury, they’d
then have to apply to the DNC to redeem the vouchers.

In
the spirit of civic boosterism, the Massachusetts Port Authority
magnanimously offered to waive their surcharge, although the
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, known for making fire engines
stop to pay tolls on the way to emergencies, declined to follow
suit. So even with three passengers per cab, which the DNC’s
voucher rules permit, the drivers would still be subsidizing
the cost of the ride.

What
the cabbies want to do is nothing more revolutionary than to
charge the meter rate — something they do for every other convention
that comes to town, from dentists’ to paleontologists’. Many
have threatened to take the week off. Some are even talking
about filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission,
on the grounds that the voucher scheme amounts to a coerced
contribution to the Democrats. In short, it’s been a PR nightmare
for the party of the working stiff

As
a market response to the transportation shortage caused by these
incredibly obtuse regulations, the Boston market has spawned such
entrepreneurial ventures as Boston Coach (apocryphally started out
of frustration by the then-CEO of Fidelity Investments when he couldn't
find a taxi to shuttle him to Logan Airport), Zipcar, and PlanetTran
(for you environmentalists out there).

But
this was NYC, not Boston. Despite artificial taxi supply constrains
imposed by the NYC taxi guild system, I've never had to wait very
long for a cab. High prices and surly service? To be sure. Boston-long
waits? Hardly ever.

Thanks
to the UN, however, I waited a full 30 minutes while attempting
to hail down a taxi cab — and I still couldn't flag one down! This
occurred before the UN summit had even convened, and on one
of the busiest streets in NYC no less! Hundreds of cabs went by
but they were all either “off duty” or filled with passengers on
their way to more lucrative destinations such as the airport. The
UN made an absolute and total mess of the streets and the cab system,
much as they've done in every other area they've touched (a reverse
Midas gift, if you will).

Permit
me to again quote from the
media
:

Big
summit challenge for New Yorkers: hail a cab

NEW
YORK (Reuters) – As 150 world leaders gather at the United Nations
to make the world a better place, New Yorkers have more mundane
challenges on their minds — like hailing a cab and getting to
work on time.

Traffic
hell is expected to engulf New York this week when the U.N.
World Summit and Fashion Week coincide in Manhattan.

“U.N.
meet to be hell on wheels,” said a New York Post headline, warning
of road closures and delays for the duration of the three-day,
60th anniversary summit that starts on Wednesday.

Could
I have taken the socialistic subway system to avoid the traffic?
Physically, of course — but mentally, no. I ride America's oldest
collectivist mass transit system every day in Boston, and it's by
far the low-light of my day (but that's another story for
another time). Suffice it to say that I avoid the "collectivist
tyranny
" of mass transit wherever and whenever possible.

Finally,
as I was about to give up, suppress a shudder and dolefully head
down to the subway, a “gypsy cab” — an unlicensed, “black market”
(aka free market) cabu2014came to a stop and I hopped in. The gypsy
cab was a pristine, luxuriously-appointed black towncar, in stark
contrast to the beaten-up, dirty, and smelly yellow cabs run
by the taxi guild. 

The
cab driver was a polite, hardworking immigrant-entrepreneur from
Hong Kong (he spoke fluent English–how many cab drivers speak
fluent English?). As he drove, he was happy to share his valuable
first-hand insights into the Chinese economy (bottom line:
even though China now seems increasingly capitalist, don’t trust
the Chinese government; these are the same people who opened fire
in Tiananmen!).

The
best part? He charged me $2.00 — for the entire fare. The entire
fare! I was thrilled to tip the driver 200%, and he was thrilled
to accept it. Now, the few gypsy cabs I've flagged down in the past
have typically been well aware of the pricing schedule of their
government-sanctioned competitors and thus price accordingly, but
this cab driver charged me below the minimum rate for his
competitors!

Let's
do a compare-contrast for the free-market v. the interventionist
market, shall we?

If,
by blind luck, I could have managed to flag down a yellow cab 
(again, there were none available for hire, due to government-induced
cab shortages and government-induced traffic gridlock), it would
have cost me a $2.50 fixed cost just to get in the cab! Now,
add in the government ”surcharges” (read: tax) to discourage
people like me from using cabs during peak hours (somewhere between
$0.50 and $1.50, I'm still not exactly sure how the system works).
All in, it would have been a $10 cab ride plus tip.

In
conclusion: the free-market cab driver chauffeured me in luxury
to my destination (I was only slightly late) for only $2.00. The
government-sanctioned cabs were not available at any price.
While, as an Austrian, I am of course well aware of the remarkable
theoretical superiority of free individuals voluntarily exchanging
with one another, it is not every day that I have the opportunity
to compare side-by-side in practice the fruits of the free
market versus those borne out of government interventionism. Another
victory for the free market!

September
19, 2005

Seth
Daniels [send
him mail
] writes from Boston.

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