• There’s nothing wrong with Pres. Obama’s Speaking Fees, no matter what the NYT says

    My op-ed at Real Clear Politics is here. Below are comments, not the text of the column itself

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    One of life’s great lessons is “never accept moral guidance from the New York Times.” The smug, gray lady proved it once again by wagging a finger at former Pres. Obama.

    He is setting a terrible example, they say, by charging $400,000 for speeches to Wall Street and then, gasp, keeping the money. Give it all to charity.

    If Pres. Obama wants to donate it, great. But that’s his call, and he is already doing the right thing by giving speeches to other, less well-heeled groups. And he is raising money for his library and foundation.

    What the Times really should worry about are politicians whose speaking fees are actually crony capitalism. They are the equivalent of road-construction companies taking politicians out for steak dinners–and then building them a new patio.

    That is not why people are paying Barack Obama. They want to hear him because he is a historic figure and a celebrity, not because he is expected to direct government money their way. The difference is crucial.

    If the Times ever stumbles upon someone doing such sleazy business, perhaps someone at the very heart of the Democratic Party for the past three decades, they really should let us know.

  • Uber and Lyft take a hit from politicians working with cab companies and unions

    Give the customer better service at lower prices or lose out to those who do. That’s how it should work in a market system.

    I take advantage of that every time I use Uber and Lyft. I really appreciate their services; the drivers I have spoken with are equally upbeat. As a bonus, competition from these ride-sharing services is making regular taxis better. Improve or lose.

    That’s why services where is no competition, such as urban schools and the US Post Office, offer such lousy service–and why their prices are so high.

    To take the schooling example, the US pays more per K-12 student than all but two countries in the world. But our rankings are miserable because the public school system is run largely as an adult-employment operation, not a child-education service.

    Preventing competition–and preserving a monopoly–is precisely why politicians, cab companies, and unions in deep blue cities want to drive the ride-sharing services out of business. They succeeded in Austin, TX, and they are working hard to do it in Seattle. See the story here.

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    CommentWhy do politicians, unions, and cab companies cooperate in this anti-competitive game? Because creating or sustaining a monopoly generates monopoly profits. There is enough for the unions, companies, and politicians to share. They do so at the public’s expense.

    Since the politicians are generating these monopoly profits, and since they can eliminate them, the companies and unions have powerful incentives to donate to friendly politicians, effectively dividing the spoils with them.

    It’s an old game. It is also why new, fast-rising cities that are not already encumbered by these monopolies usually escape them and gain competitive advantages. That Austin, Texas, gave in despite its youngish population is probably an indication that anti-competitive (because “anti-capitalist”) ideology is also important.

    It should be obvious, though, that Uber and Lyft riders and drivers are lower-income so the anti-competitive policies also amount to regressive taxes. Apparently, that’s okay if your intentions are good. (Charles Lipson comment)