The Motor Vehicle Bureau

Newly arrived in New Orleans from Arkansas, one of the first things I did after settling in was to attempt to register my automobile and get a Louisiana license plate (I can’t pass for a native with an out of town vehicle.)

I say "attempt" advisedly, because this quest, as it turned out, was quite a struggle.

On my first try, I went out to the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Bureau in Kenner, a 25-minute trip from my university. I saw a line of about 35 people, and took my place at the end of it. After 20 minutes, only two people had been served. This implied a wait of 330 minutes, or five and a half hours. Not having brought any work to do with me, I scurried back to my office, tail between my legs.

The next day I arrived with sandwiches and a book to read. There were only 20 people ahead of me. Hot diggity, I thought, this would take "only" 200 minutes at yesterday’s pace, or a little over 3 hours.

Happily, we were queued up in "snake" formation, instead of the more usual system — popular for public sector "services" — of a group of people waiting, separately, for each clerk. At least I didn’t have to worry about being at the slowest moving wicket.

But, did you ever stand around, trying to read a book, cheek by jowl with almost two dozen people, confined, sardine-like, to a space of about 10 feet by 10 feet? It was no picnic for me, and I’m a relatively young pup of only six decades; there were also some really old people on that line. This was cruel and unusual punishment for them.

Why couldn’t they give us numbers in order of arrival, and let us sit while we waited? For that matter, why does serving each "customer" take so long? And, if it really does, why not hire a few more clerks, or more efficient ones? Better yet, why not simplify the process? Are the opportunity costs of time of New Orleanians really that close to zero? Are we cattle? If they treated prisoners as badly as that, they would riot.

But the real problem is not with any of these considerations. It is, rather, that there is simply no competition for the provision of licensing and registry services. If there were an alternative (or two) available, I and at least several of my queue-mates would have patronized a competitor with alacrity.

The difficulty is, we have embraced the old Soviet system of economics in our so-called "public" sector. In the bad old U.S.S.R., there were long waiting lines for just about everything. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have sovietized such things as the Motor Vehicle Bureau, the Post Office, and a myriad of other government bureaucracies.

It is time, it is long past time, to privatize these last vestiges of socialism, and allow the winds of free enterprise to blow away these cob-webs of inefficiency. The reason we have reasonably good pizza, toilet paper and shoes, etc., — and don’t have to wait hours for them — is because there is competition in these industries. Those entrepreneurs who cannot cut it are forced to change the error of their ways through our marvelous profit and loss system. If they cannot, they are forced into bankruptcy, and others, more able, are eager to take their places. Adam Smith’s "invisible hand" assures quality service wherever competition reigns.

In the event, my second wait took only an hour and 45 minutes. The queue moved faster than I had thought it would. I was "lucky." (Furious, I wrote this op ed while waiting in line). I am now the proud owner of a spanking new Louisiana license plate.