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Nothing Is More Expensive Than a Free Government Service

Every promise of a free government service should be greeted with instant, habitual, and empirically verified incredulity.

By Jeffrey A. Tucker
TUESDAY, JULY 2, 2019
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I’m listening to politicians hock their wares these days. The same ideas keep reappearing. Put them in charge and health care will be free. College education will be free. All life essentials will be free. Jobs will fall like manna from heaven. There will be a guaranteed income. Retirement will be secure.

You get the impression of government as some magic fairy who bestows goods and services on people without the annoying part of having to forgo income to get them. It’s a world without prices, without demands, without cost, a bounty that comes to one and all merely because powerful people legislated it to be so. The power of a piece of paper backed by law!

That’s the fantasy. The reality of government is radically different. Everything is priced. The pricing is not subject to the competitive discipline of the market. It is irrational pricing made up by a bureaucrat. There are always conditions. Noncompliance is punished by the taking away of your liberty and property.

This is the daily reality of life under government control. Far from feeling like benevolence, in practice, it is exploitative and often brutal. The daily experience of this should be a warning to anyone who considers expanding government control more deeply and broadly into other areas of life.

Let’s just consider an obvious case where government exercises hegemonic control: the ability to drive your car from here to there.

I tell the following story not because it is particularly unusual but only because it is on my mind because it happened just three days ago.

A friend of mine was planning a trip to the city with another friend. They were going to have a night on the town. They hit the road with a sense of carefree happiness and anticipation. Only a few miles later, the blue lights appeared behind them. The policeman pulled them over and demanded identification. The driver asked why she had been pulled over, but the policeman wouldn’t say. After checking the ID, he revealed that he had been checking plates and fishing for possible problems.

He returned after some wait to announce that her license had been suspended. She was shocked. It was an unpaid speeding ticket. She pointed out that she did, in fact, pay the ticket. The electronic database disagreed. He said he could arrest her, but he would exercise compassion and merely impound her car. This he ordered, leaving them potentially stranded on the side of the road. They asked for a ride home. He mercifully agreed to give them that.

Their weekend of fun was ruined. When the Department of Motor Vehicles reopened on Monday, she called. The policeman was completely mistaken. He never should have stopped her. Now, what is the recourse? She could spend a few days in court with an attorney. The result might be some kind of black mark on the cop’s record. Or maybe not. The worst possible result for him would be a paid temporary suspension, but that wouldn’t be likely.

In the interest of time, she could just pay the money. I’m going to make up some numbers because this hasn’t happened yet. She will pay a towing fee, a storage fee, a license-reinstatement fee, a court fee, and some others. Let’s say it costs, in the end, $1,000, plus the opportunity cost of missing a weekend vacation, plus the trauma of being repeatedly threatened with arrest and having her car temporarily stolen by the government…[ ]

What do you think?

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