George Will

MINNEAPOLIS -- The campaign to deny Luis Paucar his right to economic liberty illustrates the ingenuity people will invest in concocting perverse arguments for novel entitlements. This city's taxi cartel is offering an audacious new rationalization for corporate welfare, asserting a right -- a constitutional right, in perpetuity -- to revenues it would have received if Minneapolis' City Council had not ended the cartel that never should have existed.

Paucar, 37, embodies the best qualities of American immigrants. He is a splendidly self-sufficient entrepreneur. And he is wielding American principles against some Americans who, in their decadent addiction to government assistance, are trying to litigate themselves to prosperity at the expense of Paucar and the public.

Seventeen years ago Paucar came to America from Ecuador and for five years drove a taxi in New York City. Because that city has long been liberalism's laboratory, many taxi drivers there are akin to, as an economist has said, ``modern urban sharecroppers.''

In 1937, New York City, full of liberalism's itch to regulate everything, knew, just knew, how many taxicab permits there should be. For 70 years the number (about 12,000) has not been significantly changed, so rising prices have been powerless to create new suppliers of taxi services. Under this government-created scarcity, a permit (``medallion'') now costs about $500,000. Most people wealthy enough to buy medallions do not drive cabs, any more than plantation owners picked cotton. They lease their medallions at exorbitant rates to people like Paucar who drive, often for less than $15 an hour, for long days.

Attracted by Minneapolis-St. Paul's vibrant Hispanic community, now 130,000 strong, Paucar moved here, assuming that economic liberty would be more spacious than in New York. Unfortunately, Minnesota has a ``progressive,'' meaning statist, tradition that can impede the progress of people like Paucar but who lack his knack for fighting back.

The regulatory impulse came to the upper Midwest with immigrants from Northern Europe, many of whom carried the too-much-government traditions of ``social democracy.'' In the 1940s, under a mayor who soon would take his New Deal liberalism to Washington -- Hubert Humphrey -- the city capped entry into the taxi business.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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