Competition for Thee, Not Me

by Don Boudreaux on June 9, 2006

in Regulation

I recently participated in the Mercatus Center’s superb day-long symposium on e-commerce.  In addition to moderating a panel, I commented
on a spendid paper by U.S. Department of Justice attorney Asheesh Agarwal; its
title is “Protection as a Rational Basis? The Impact on E-Commerce in the
Funeral Industry.”

Asheesh makes a powerful case that government should not
prevent people from buying caskets on-line.

You’ll be able to read this paper in a few months when it is
published by the Journal of Law, Economics & Policy, published at the GMU
School of Law. In the meantime, I want
to share an intentionally hilarious part of Asheesh’s paper:

[A]t a workshop devoted recently to these [e-commerce]
issues hosted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), speakers identified a
variety of specific concerns in a range of industries.  Although no speaker defended pervasive
regulation of all e-commerce, speakers in different industries argued that
their particular industry uniquely required greater regulation:

Caskets. “A casket is not just a commodity like a shirt or a pair of shoes; it is a product for a special specific event at a very sensitive and specific time.”

Wine. “I want to call attention to the one fact about wine that makes it different from all other commodities that will be discussed… that difference being it is an alcoholic beverage.  In addition none of the other commodities and services being discussed here have been the subject of a constitutional amendment.”

– Automobiles. “[T]he Internet…cannot replace services provided by the [auto] dealers.  We are not selling books, CDs or wine, but a very sophisticated product, a sophisticated product that has over 10,000 moving parts, electronic and  mechanical, with a transaction price averaging $25,800.”

Legal Services. “I think it is essential to keep in mind that we aren’t talking about contact lenses or caskets or wine bottles, that we’re talking about something very different when we’re talking about access to the justice system.”

My very first economics professor, at Nicholls State University back in 1977,
made a powerful case for free markets and free trade. She is the person who first
recommend that I read Bastiat.  I love
her dearly and respect her immensely.  But
even she believed that one commodity should be exempt from the rule of free
trade: sugar. Her father and her husband
were in the sugar business in south Louisiana.

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