John Stossel
Instinctively, we look for people's motives. We need to know whom we can trust and whom we can't. We're especially skeptical of business because we know business wants our money.

It took me too long to understand that business's desire for profit is a good thing. To get our money, businesses -- if they can't look to the government for favors -- need to give us what we want. Then they must make continuous improvements and do it better than the competition does.

That competition is enough to protect consumers. But that's not intuitive. It's intuitive to assume that competition isn't really consumer protection and that experts at the FDA, FTC, DEA, FCC, CPSC, OSHA and so on must protect us. These experts consult "responsible" businessmen for advice on creating rules to make sure businesses meets minimum "standards."

Unfortunately, this standardization stops innovation.

We are imprinted to be wary of newcomers, strangers. Newcomers by definition are less experienced. Maybe they'll do something unsafe or dishonest! We don't want government to stop them from doing business -- we just want consumers protected! Governments claim to do that by licensing businesses.

People like the idea of licensing. We license drivers. We license dogs. It seems prudent. People naively think this government seal of approval makes us safer.

This naivete is used to justify all sorts of rules that kill competition.

Las Vegas regulators require anyone who wants to start a limousine business to prove his new business is needed and, worse, will not "adversely affect other carriers." But every new business intends to beat its competitors. That's the point. Competition is good for us. Las Vegas' anticompetitive licensing rules mean limo customers pay more.

In Nashville, Tenn., regulators ruled it illegal for a limo to charge less than $45 a ride. One entrepreneur had won customers by charging half that, but the new regulations mean the established car service businesses no longer have to worry about him.

Perhaps Nashville's and Vegas' regulators really believe "this is an area where the free market doesn't work," as the manager of the Nevada Transportation Services Authority put it. But it's fishy that charging big fees for licenses just happens to be a very effective shakedown operation. Vegas cab and limousine businesses give "substantial" donations to Vegas-area political candidates, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Our big government has justified its existence (at least since the Progressive Era) by claiming it is a "countervailing influence" to corporate power -- when it is, in fact, incestuously entwined with corporations.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate