The airwaves in the DC metro area have been heavily polluted lately with ads of aspiring politicians campaigning for office. One candidate – in Maryland, for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives – is David Trone. Trone is the founder of one of my favorite stores, Total Wine. I love wine, and I buy a great deal of my wine from Total Wine. It’s an excellent retail shop. (I use Total Wine as an example in my economics classes when I explain the meaninglessness of bilateral trade deficits: I have a huge, ever-growing, and never-to-be balanced trade deficit with Total Wine, yet both Total Wine and I are better off as a result.)
This morning on WTOP radio I heard Trone’s latest ad. It opens with him saying
“How can I help you?” are words that serve me well in business.
Trone went on to explain that he’ll use that same helpful demeanor and means if he is elected to Congress.
But he won’t do so.
I’m not accusing Trone of lying. It’s possible that he’s naive enough to believe that his proven ability as a businessman to make win-win deals with scores of consumers and workers and other suppliers – deals that improve society – will enable him, as a Congressman, to make similar win-win deals with scores of Uncle Sam’s subjects. But the state is not a business.
To succeed in business Trone is required to make other people better off without making anyone worse off. Because consumers can refuse to buy wine and beer from Total Wine, Trone must ceaselessly work hard to ensure that his wine offerings are of high-enough quality and are priced low enough to persuade consumers voluntarily choose to shop at his store. He can’t force consumers to buy his wine. Nor can he force people to work for him. He cannot seize land on which to build his stores, nor seize from their producers or wholesalers the products that he retails to consumers. In short, Trone’s success in business is built on his admirable ability to peacefully strike a complex series of voluntary deals with many suppliers and countless consumers – deals in which everyone wins and no one loses. And Trone is correct that his asking “How can I help you?” is key to his success.
To succeed in politics, however, Trone will be called upon to make some people worse off in order to make other people better off. He certainly will not be bound, as he is as a private citizen, to not infringe the property and contract rights of other individuals. Indeed, government is all about infringing such rights: minimum-wage legislation infringes the rights of employers and workers to contract with each other as they choose; trade restrictions infringe the rights of consumers to spend their money as they choose; the so-callled ‘war on drugs’ infringes the rights of people to ingest what they choose. This list can be extended indefinitely.
While a Rep. Trone will certainly make deals with special-interest groups and coalitions of other politicians, he – unlike businessman Trone – will be a member of an armed gang that specializes in forcing other people to act rather than voluntarily persuading them to do so. Rep. Trone – unlike businessman Trone – will be able to compel unwilling people to do as he bids; Rep. Trone – unlike businessman Trone – will not have first to ask people “How can I help you?”
In action, if not in words, Rep. Trone’s slogan will not be “How can I help you?” but, instead, “Here’s what I command you to to do, whether you like it or not. So do it or my friends here will cage or shoot you.”