What could we all do with less of? Government, of course. Specifically government meddling (“intervention”) in our daily lives, in the activities of our businesses, our institutions (like churches), and everything else.
TPOL has more than once pointed out that the United States of America was established as the largest free market zone in the world. In a time when there were customs barriers, tariffs, duties, and regulations dividing small duchies and counties of Germany and Italy, and even provinces of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, Americans enjoyed a de jure and de facto free market the width of a continent, and a de facto free market in 95% of the continent. (There were few or no customs houses between the US and Canada or Mexico as recently as just 100 years ago.)
Unfortunately, that has changed. While there is still a semblance of free trade across State and county lines, from Key West to Everett, from San Diego to Lubec (Maine), in reality, trade – commerce – is anything but free. Government rules: statutes and regulations prevent such a thing. And more and more each year.
Patrick Carroll over at the Foundation for Economic Education has just published a commentary on another example of how American governments ride roughshod over free enterprise, and destroy free markets. His story comes, not from a blue, “progressive” (regressive) State, but a surprising one to most people: Montana, the Big Sky Country.
(Patrick is the same man who wrote about licensing of professionals and how it is used to prevent competition – deny a free market – in California and other States, as we discuss in another TPOL commentary.)
In order to be able to have a business hauling trash from generators to landfills in Montana, you have to have a license from the State’s Public Service Commission. To get that license, you must submit a “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” (CPCN) similar to a “Certificate of Need” (required by the FedGov for clinics and hospitals and such). But when Parker Noland tried to start a roll-off business (providing large trash containers to construction sites and other large waste generators) and applied in 2021, certain entities objected: especially at least two national companies companies. Since then, he has no trash business, but Mr. Noland has thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in legal and other bills to try to get the CPCN and therefore a license from the State. So that he can provide a few dozen 20- to 40-cubic yard trash containers (the big ones) to customers and periodically haul them to the landfill, pay the landfill for disposing of the trash, and bring them back to his customer.
Meanwhile Mr. Noland’s would-be customers have to put up with shoddy service from his enemy competitors, who convince the State not to allow him to compete with them. (I don’t know exactly which firms but can guess: Waste Management, Republic, Waste Connections, or one of the billion-dollar trash and recycling companies that operate in virtually every State.)
The situation in Montana he writes about is not well known. Most of the staff here at TPOL have been doing solid waste and recycling work in the Northern Great Plains and Rockies for 30+ years, and didn’t know about this nasty little aspect of that regime infesting Helena. (The Montana State Government, and Helena is not pronounced like the common woman’s name: no long e sounds.) We’ve done work in Montana but not directly involved in waste management; our projects regarding solid waste in North Dakota and Wyoming have never had to depend on hauling trash to Montana.
We will discuss Patrick’s article, and add to some of the points he makes, in a later commentary. In the meantime, look around you and see if YOU are living in a free market in your town or rural district, county, and State. Can you buy what you want from whom you want to without having some kind of government permit or license? And paying some sort of government fee or tax? Of course not. Not in the Fifty States of 2022, nor for decades before now. We have some parts of a market that is free, especially as compared to other countries, not a real one.
FEE also provided this data: Roughly 1 in 4 American workers needs a government permission slip—an occupational license—to work, up from an estimated 1 in 20 in the 1950s, according to a recent report put out by the Institute for Justice. Oh, yes, this is “free trade?” Absolutely not.
We have hundreds of examples of permits and licenses and certifications in tens of thousands of jurisdictions. And for the most part, we tolerate and cooperate.
This didn’t all happen at once.
It took decades, one step, one profession, one new regulation or interpretation after another, for the government goons to gain control over the daily activities of so many people. And don’t forget it is not just “occupational licenses” but all sorts of things. In 1955, you didn’t have to have a driver’s license to drive your own or someone else’s personal car, for example. You only had to have a license to drive a commercial vehicle – to drive a business vehicle. And you didn’t need a government ID to cash a check or even make a deposit in a bank.
To mix metaphors, our goose is cooked. Through and through. Sometimes we can get away with breaking all these laws – an example being a law common to many AmerInd tribal nations that “commercial traffic” requires a permit from the tribe to use highways and roads through their reservation. Even if it is numbered as a Federal or State or County road. Most of the time you can get away with not knowing or obeying that. Until someone rats you out. As apparently happened with Mr. Noland in Montana.
So, what laws are you breaking? That your neighbor turns you in for, to a local or county or state government? Or even a federal agency? Because they think your kids’ music is too loud? Or your dog (properly leashed) growled at them? Or you didn’t stay six feet away and wear your face diaper?
My son was 18, wanted to start his own business. When I started to list all the permits, all the rules he had to fill, he look at me like I was nuts. BTW he hated me. He ask people and found out that I was right, then I told him he had to be 21, that set him off.
I hear you. The age restrictions are astonishing, and we take them for granted. Since our sons started working in our family business (environmental engineering) about age 5, they grew up knowing about those, so they were never surprised. Our older son started his first business at age 8. There are some weird quirks. For example, most States require highway flaggers to be 18 – some 21. But my sons were certified to give flagger training and test and certify flaggers for work on state and federal highways in their early teens! And there is no age limit on being certified/licensed to read opacity (visible emissions) from equipment and plants! They both started doing that about age 10.
Established as a free trade zone? The very first piece of legislation passed by Congress after the Constitution was ratified was a tariff.
Tom, that was an EXTERNAL tariff, wasn’t it? It was not between goods moving from, say, New York to Georgia. Was it?