Is Free-Market Anarchism Unworkable?

Recently by Mark R. Crovelli: Patriotism Is the Last Refuge of anIdiot

Maybe it is the fact that most Americans are educated in socialistic quasi-prisons today. Whatever the reason, it seems to be virtually impossible for Americans to conceive of an economy devoid of invasive government regulations and manipulations. The idea of completely freeing the economy of these burdensome government contrivances, which is precisely what free-market anarchism means, is thus completely incomprehensible to them. A totally free market for anything is assumed from the outset to be impossible, unworkable, and dangerous.

And yet, there is at least one sector of the American economy that is already about as anarchistic as could possibly be imagined. I am talking about the thousands of businesses that install roofs and rain gutters in this country. It is an industry that is exciting, dynamic and thrillingly free. The industry offers an important economic lesson for unimaginative Americans who blithely assume that free-market anarchism is impossible, unworkable, and dangerous.

That the roofing industry could be as anarchistic as I claim may seem absurd at first glance, since there are layers upon layers of laws "regulating" it. There are licensing laws in some jurisdictions governing who may or may not install roofs and gutters. There are myriad federal and state laws governing worker safety and workers' compensation. There are laws governing the minimum wage and restricting the hiring "illegal" immigrants. And finally, there are laws and "codes" governing the installation of the roofing system itself.

How can an industry be considered virtually anarchistic when there exist thousands of federal, state and local laws "regulating" it?

The answer, quite frankly, is that the vast majority of roofing companies don't give a rat's ass about the governments' laws. Most don't care a whit whether the rich scumbags in congress don't want them to hire Mexicans. They hire them in droves in order to drive down their prices. Most don't care one iota whether fat OSHA office workers want them to wear unwieldy and dangerous harnesses. They simply don't force their workers to wear them, as if the law were voluntary. Most don't give a damn what the federal minimum wage laws say. They pay their workers as little as the workers will accept in this bad economy and the workers are fantastically happy to have the job. And most don't give even a moment's notice to the licensing laws for roofers in certain jurisdictions. They simply have licensed people pull permits for them as quickly as they please. Call me if you need one pulled!

They don't care at all about these laws because they know the trump card is in their hands: bankruptcy. If the jackasses down at OSHA try to go after one of them for not wearing harnesses, the company will miraculously go under that day only to reemerge two days later with a new name and a new proprietor. If the immigration bureaucrats come after them for hiring so-called "illegals," the remaining "legals" will hang out drinking beer for a few weeks until their other guys are able to get back over the border to get back to work. No big deal. (I once worked with a Mexican in California who was deported early one morning and made it back to work before lunchtime!) What's the worst the bureaucrats can do to you as a roofing business owner? Take your compressor or stick you with some fines? Ha! See you in two days!

This refreshingly rebellious attitude toward the governments' asinine laws does not mean that roofers do not care about the quality of their work, however. The key to staying in business and making money in the roofing industry is installing quality roofs and having zero leaks. Either that, or you run from state to state putting up bad roofs for suckers and then get out of town as quickly as possible. (If you ever wondered what kind of person is falling for those ridiculous Nigerian email scams, it's the same idiot who's hiring a cheap, out-of-town roofing company. He no doubt wonders how he keeps getting scammed).

Roofers care about putting up good roofs because much of their business comes from word-of-mouth. If you put up a bad roof, you can be sure to have lost that entire neighborhood for once and for all. Also, since any decent roofer has liability insurance against leaks (it is in fact required to do work for insurance companies), he cares passionately about not having to make claims against his insurance. Nothing will put you out of business quicker than making claims against your insurance that will either astronomically elevate your premiums or even cause insurers to refuse you coverage. The free market is thus virtually the only reason why roofers put up good roofs that don't leak.

Hey, wait a second! What about those building codes and roofing inspections that states and cities have instituted in order to make sure that roofers put up decent roofs? Aren't these regulations a major reason why roofers do a good job?

I am terribly sorry to have to burst your bubble if these objections are running through your naïve little head, but city roofing inspections and building codes are a complete and utter joke. In the first place, as far as building codes and roofing codes are concerned, cities basically lift the codes from manufacturer instructions or from non-profit organizations, like the ICC. Most commonly the "codes" are simply awkward bureaucratic rehashes of what roofers can read for themselves on the felt rolls or shingle bundles. In other words, the cities basically tell roofers to follow the instructions on the package. If you think that telling roofers to follow instructions is the reason you are getting a good roof, then I have a bridge I'd like to sell to you!

The city roofing inspection racket is no less of a joke. Here's an example. I was recently doing some carpentry work at a house when the roofing inspector showed up, so I offered to let him use my ladder in order to get up to inspect the roof. He declined, saying "I can tell that it's ok from here." I have seen that occur more times than I can count. I have also seen roofing inspectors being bribed, as if that should surprise anyone.

More importantly, city roofing inspections are completely unnecessary when the roofer has liability insurance (and anyone stupid enough to hire a roofer, or anyone else for that matter, without liability insurance deserves whatever disaster befalls him). If the roof is installed incorrectly and leaks as a result, the homeowner can make a claim against the roofer's insurance. The roofing inspector and the city, by contrast, will give the homeowner absolutely nothing if the roof leaks. Of what use, then, is the roofing inspector? This is all the more true since the homeowner's insurance company will often inspect the roof itself in order to assure that it is installed correctly. Also, some roofing manufacturers, like Genflex for example, will inspect, certify, and guarantee the roof themselves. Given this, why on Earth are these nosy and lazy bureaucrats necessary? The cost of the roof is higher than it otherwise would be without them, and they do nothing that is not already being done better by the insurance companies.

The good news is that it has probably never been easier to get a fantastic and affordable roof in this country. This is due to the rebellious and sunburned anarchists in the roofing industry itself, not to the politicians and bureaucrats who have bankrupted this country.