Outside a new day is dawning. Outside Suburbia’s sprawling everywhere. I don’t want to go baby, New York to east California, there’s a new wave coming I warn you. We’re the kids in America. We’re the kids in America rang out Kim Wilde in the 1981 classic.
Today, the Occupy Wall Street crowd (the kids in America?) celebrated what they consider to be a big victory. The Bank of America, the nation’s largest bank bowed to pressure from its customers and decided against imposing a $60 annual fee for the pleasure of using debit cards. I happen to agree. It seems to be the height of arrogance to charge consumers for using debit cards – a payment device that the bank already generates huge profits from. But is this really a victory for the OWS crowd? I think not.
While it is difficult to actually determine what the OWS folks are demanding from the world, one thing seems certain from their published “demands.” This movement is anti-business and competition and pro-government. The group has called for, among other things, creating 25 million new government jobs paying union-level wages, providing free government transportation and free university education for all, staffing a single-payer (government) health care system, and pursuing (supposedly government funded) clean-energy research.
The move by Bank of America, on the other hand was extremely pro-business and based exclusively on the threat of competition. As Professor Walter Williams opined in a recent column titled Profits are for People, “Producers please customers, in a cost-minimizing fashion, and make a profit, or they face losses or go bankrupt.” On the other hand, government monopolies face virtually no competition. Oh sure, it is possible to move to a different city or state to escape from a corrupt or incompetent local government, but this is much more difficult than changing banks, supermarkets or restaurants when these competitive firms fail to serve our needs.
The OWS demands call for increased government is also a call for more monopoly and less competition. That is simply a fact since governments by their very nature are monopolies and for many reasons have to be. You could not reasonably have two City of New York Buildings Departments competing with each other to see which one is more popular. Building codes are not on the books to make builders happy, they are there to make citizens safe. The same is true of courts, police officers and many of the important roles that government assumes.
But in many cases, government competes with private business, and this is where the demands of the OWS crowd clash with reality. Public transit competes with private taxis, busses and airlines. Public schools with private ones and public hospitals with private doctors. In each of these instances, government uses its monopoly over force and the law to disadvantage private firms, and in each of these industries, government provides at best mediocre service.
Do the OWS protesters really believe that the monopoly New York MTA would lower fares if they were to collect 300,000 signatures on a petition? Do they honestly believe that the 60 percent of American’s who are not able to go to college should subsidize them with free tuition simply because they decide to brandish signs and chant slogans? Do they believe that the same people who funded Solyndra can make good decisions about the nation’s energy needs in the future?
These soft hearted ideas are simply soft headed. The Bank of America decided against imposing debit card fees because it faced the hard, unforgiving stony glare of competition, not out of the goodness of its heart or to have a good photo opportunity. Ceding more and more of the economy to uncompetitive monopoly bureaucracies will only make these victories less likely.