Monday, September 28, 2015

Artificial Barriers To Entry: Humanity's Berlin Wall


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You argue that nobody is better off when they trade with Martin Shkreli… but you also argue that plenty of people choose to trade with him (which is why he’s raking in the profits). 

The first time that you traded with Shkreli he ripped you off. Shame on him. But if you traded with him a second time… then shame on you. If you continued to trade with him… then here are a couple of very different conclusions…

1. you’re irrational
2. you’re benefiting

Are you irrational? If so, then you really shouldn’t be blaming Shkreli. Are you benefiting? If so, then you really should be thanking Shkreli. 

Markets wouldn’t work so well if most people continued to make trades that weren’t beneficial. The fact of the matter is that consumers want to maximize their profit just as much as producers do. The only difference is that we can’t see or measure the amount of profit that consumers derive from a trade. But, because market trades are entirely voluntary, when consumers continue to make the same trades…. we can reasonably guess that they are profiting from doing so. It’s an entirely different story when consumers don’t have the freedom to exit. In the absence of consumer choice, the only thing that we can reasonably guess is that producers have little, if any, incentive to benefit consumers. Destroying the direct connection between payment and performance has logically detrimental consequences. 

Even though your economic analysis is logically flawed… you’re right that there’s a problem. Rent-seeking is certainly a part of it. The thing is… your definition of rent-seeking is incredibly wrong. Rent-seeking really is not when people charge what the market will bear. Where did you get the idea that it was? Being able to price gouge is the reward that people receive for correctly foreseeing future conditions. We really want people to have the maximum incentive to be in the most valuable place at the most valuable time. If there are a lot of people drowning and only one lifeguard… then it’s a really bad idea to reduce the incentive for other people to become lifeguards. Evidently you didn’t learn in econ 101 that incentives matter. You should try and get a refund. 

Rent-seeking is actually when people use the government to cheat. The minimum wage is the result of rent-seeking. It’s rent seeking when unions use the government to block competition. Just like it’s rent-seeking when corporations use the government to block competition. 

Forcing drug companies to comply with extensive government regulations is a huge part of the reason that drugs are so expensive. Costly compliance creates a very high barrier to entry… and a very high barrier to entry means a lot less competition… and a lot less competition means higher prices, smaller quantities and lower qualities. Drug companies want compliance to be costly… and voters want to be protected from defective drugs. So, unfortunately, it’s a win-win situation for congress to create the maximum amount of red-tape possible. 

Therefore, the real problem is democracy. Voters think that they are getting a free lunch when they vote for politicians who promise to ensure drug safety. Instead of getting a free lunch, voters simply make drugs a lot more expensive. Saving one life really isn’t such a great deal when it costs 1000s of lives. 

People vote to make it a lot harder to become a lifeguard and then they turn around and complain that so many people are drowning. 

The solution is to allow taxpayers to choose where their taxes go (pragmatarianism). When taxpayers consider the opportunity costs of drug safety compliance… they will decide that they have much more beneficial trades to make with the government. Big pharma will cry big tears when the barrier to entry is knocked down just like the Berlin Wall was. Once the barrier is down… competition will skyrocket and this will ensure an abundance of affordable and effective drugs. 

Drug companies will still want to cut corners… but a fully functioning market with maximum competition will quickly and severely punish any companies that cost, rather than save, lives. 

Regulations are just rules… and rules are necessary. This doesn’t mean though that all rules are equally necessary. The only way to ensure that rules truly create the most benefit for society is to create a market in the public sector. Are you going to voluntarily spend your hard-earned money on rules that harm you? Not if you’re rational. Generally speaking… rational people have more money to spend than irrational people. This is because being in the right place at the right time is more profitable than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank goodness! So if you’re rational… then chances are good that you’re going to have more influence…. which you’ll use to support the most beneficial rules. If circumstances change and a rule becomes less beneficial… then you’ll have the freedom to quickly use your taxes to communicate to the rest of society that the rule has become less necessary. 

It’s important to understand that benefit is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Just like it’s important to understand that incentives matter. Just like it’s important to understand that every allocation requires the sacrifice of alternative allocations.

So is it beneficial for you to reply to my reply? I have absolutely no idea. But if you do reply…. assuming that nobody forced you to do so… and assuming that you’re reasonably rational… then I’ll logically conclude that any benefit that you foresaw must have been large enough to incentivize you to spend your time sharing your thoughts on my thoughts on your thoughts.

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