Thomas Sowell

 When you want to buy a car with a certain feature added, you may not have a clue on how that affects the way the car is built, or the additional time, effort and materials required. But you can depend on the additional price telling you the end result.

 When I wanted to buy a telephoto lens for my camera, the local camera store had two available. Both had the same magnification as 300mm lenses and both were made by the same manufacturer. But one lens cost $900 and the other cost more than $2,000. Why? Because one lens let in more light than the other.

 I am not an optics expert, so I don't know all the ins and outs of making lenses that let in different amounts of light. But I know the difference between $900 and $2,000 -- and that is all I needed to know in order to choose the cheaper lens.

 Government restrictions are attractive to people who want to impose their pet notions without having to count the costs. There may be estimated costs -- often disputed estimates -- but there is nothing to force those estimates to include all the things that will become more costly because of a given policy.

 Nor is there anything to force the original estimates to bear any resemblance to the actual costs that end up being paid by the taxpayers and others.

 In the marketplace, you can believe that every additional cost your decision creates is likely to show up in the price tag. If the 300mm lens that lets in more light has to have more and larger elements made with more expensive glass, as well as requiring a larger carrying case, you can believe that the manufacturer is not going to overlook those things when he sets the price.

 The government can overlook all sorts of costs -- but those costs do not go away. There is no free lunch.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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