It's Our Choice: Wal-Mart or the DMV
A current bill now sailing through the California Legislature is referred to as the "Three Strikes and You're Out of Business" bill. Until now, the Democratic-controlled Legislature has been content taxing, regulating and demonizing businesses. This bill takes it further, by threatening to actually shut down any business that runs afoul of the law three times.
It even has a nifty Stalinist element: After each "strike," businesses must take out full-page newspaper ads admitting their crimes against society, and explaining them in gory detail.
At first glance, the Three Strikes plan makes me laugh. California businesses are notorious for bankrolling Democrats, and for taking potshots at right-wingers at every chance. It almost serves them right. But this won't be comeuppance for the big players, but a way for regulators to threaten and bully smaller businesses if they happen to step out of line.
The bill is simply the most egregious example of what happens many times each day in Sacramento and elsewhere. Legislators, council members and other officials proceed from the belief that everything that takes place in the private sector is suspect, and more aspects of our lives must be turned over to planners, bureaucrats and police agencies.
This is obvious to LewRockwell readers, but has yet to register in the minds of most Californians I come across. How do we get them to consider the many ways that the private sector improves their lives and the equal number of ways the government sector causes harm?
Not too long ago, my newspaper — 100 pages or so of usually interesting stuff delivered to my front door each day for pennies — didn't show up. Who knows? The delivery guy either forgot to deliver it or a neighbor pilfered it. An hour after I made a short phone call to a toll-free number, a kid drives up and hands me a new paper free of charge. No questions asked. No problem. That's the marketplace at work.
Recently, I received the final documents from the county recorder's office regarding my home refinancing. It took nine months, and heaven knows how much it cost taxpayers for that act to have happened. I once waited on hold for over an hour to ask a question to the recorder's office, and didn't get any kind of answer.
I had a minor problem with my car, so I drove it to the car dealer. Not only was the dealership open early in the morning to meet the needs of working people, but an employee at the shop drove me to my office at no charge. The work was done for free, because of something called a warranty.
Last time I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles, I had to take time off of work because of its limited hours. I had to wait in line in a grungy building for 30 minutes, then wait in another line for an hour, then go back to the first line because the surly person working there gave me the wrong information. Eventually I ended up paying $1,400 in taxes and fees for the legal privilege to drive my cars in this state.
Consider the difference: The private sector offered a pleasant experience at no cost, and the public sector put me through a meat grinder at a high cost for an item I didn't want and only needed because the government insisted that I have it.
By the way, the government is always preaching about diversity. Yet in my private-sector dealings, diversity is not a problem. My African-American realtor wanted my business because I had money to buy a house, not because of my race or ethnicity. My Korean painter doesn't care that I'm not Korean, and my Latino workmen don't care either. I've never had a problem hiring unlicensed foreign workers; in fact, they're usually a better bet than the licensed, unionized Anglo variety.
It's only in the government, where different ethnic groups' self-appointed leaders lobby for taxpayer-funded spoils, do hostilities boil over. It's a cliché, but the only color anyone I know cares about is green. Is that supposed to be a bad thing?
What is it the government does to improve my life?
Not too long ago some kids in slammed Hondas and Toyotas were hanging out on my street, revving their engines and causing a ruckus. A neighbor called the cops, who never bothered to show up. After that, the neighborhood solved the problem on its own with a little organization and some bright lights. I'm not saying the cops never are needed, but they aren't needed nearly as much as we think.
Unquestionably, there are some sleazy actors in the private sector. I've had troubles with retailers and loan officers and the like, but things have been worked out without the government's involvement. Certainly, no regulatory agency could ever be counted on to help a consumer in a troubling spot. The court system is a necessary check on fraud and abuse, and for settling complicated claims. But realistically, the cost of going to court is so high that in lower-level disputes we're left to our own devices anyway.
I could go on and on. These aren't exciting examples, but that's my point. Day in and day out, we're treated fairly and honestly by businesses who sell us stuff, provide us services, and fix problems without a hassle on the instances that things go wrong. It's so natural that we don't even notice. Yet our dealings with government are rarely good, because they are based solely on force.
Yet, in California, businesses are being threatened with extinction and government is growing bigger and more intrusive. How can I convince my fellow Californians that what we really need is a "Three Strikes and You're Out of Business" law that's applied solely to government agencies?
May 3, 2003
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif.
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