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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 4 years ago

Our View


The truth is — or, we’ll call it our truth — Sarasota County commissioners were afraid to vote “no” on the puppy-mill ordinance Tuesday. You can imagine they were imagining the grief and tormenting that would befall them if they voted against the animal-lovers.

So they punted.

Really? Have the county attorney provide a legal analysis of a proposed ordinance in 60 days?

What a wimpy stall tactic.

There is no reason to debate this. The County Commission should not ever, or even consider, or even think about adopting an ordinance prohibiting pet-store owners from selling puppies or kittens or rabbits or gerbils purchased from so-called puppy-kitten-rabbit-gerbil mills.

The issue is simple: It’s one of buyer beware. Let the free market regulate this matter.

It will, and it does.

Consider a larger context:

Imagine the outrage and outpouring of women’s rights’ activists if the County Commission were to vote on whether to ban abortions at Planned Parenthood.

Imagine the outrage if the County Commission were to vote on an ordinance banning whiskey, wine and beer at restaurants and bars on the basis that alcohol is bad for you.

Imagine the outrage if the County Commission were to vote on limiting the speed of boats in Sarasota Bay to 15 mph on the theory that going faster than that can be fatal in a boat wreck.

Imagine the outrage if the County Commission were to vote on the Michael Bloomberg ordinance banning Big Gulps. Or an ordinance limiting the amount of salt allowed on your food. Or the sale of French fries cooked in transfats.

And on and on.

There is no end to the do-gooders who want to legislate your way of life according to their mores.
And what do these special interests always do to get their way? They go to their governments and pressure them to intervene and pervert the law on their behalf.

French writer-economist Frederic Bastiat, in his classic book, “The Law,” wrote:

“It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents or our pleasures.

“The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.”

But we have all learned that is not how our society works. Special interests use “the law” — legislation — in direct opposition to its purpose. As Bastiat put it:

“The law has been used to destroy its own objective. It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect.
“The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. … ”

Go ahead, make the law. Ban pet stores from buying from “mills.”

Then what?

Who will police this? And who will pay for the policing — taxpayers? Sarasota in Defense of Animals?

Fact is, no matter what “law” the County Commission adopts, it will never outlaw the bad actors. It’s like requiring child-safety seats in automobiles for all children under the age 5. Yes, they reduce the number of child fatalities in auto accidents, but they don’t eliminate them. You can’t police every instance of stupidity.

So it’s mystifying why the proponents of this puppy-mill ban on pet stores apparently refuse to accept there is no better regulator of their distaste for puppy mills than Adam Smith’s free hand of the market.
It always works. Eventually, Bernie Madoff got caught. The marketplace, not regulators, caught him. Arthur Nadel got caught. The marketplace, not regulators, caught him.

When lululemon sold crummy women’s workout wear, the market punished the company. It wasn’t the law.

When Enron collapsed, it was because potential suitors discovered financial problems and misrepresentations. The marketplace, not regulators, stopped it.

The bad actors always, eventually, get punished — mostly by the market.

Take pet store owners. A good one who believes passionately that he can fill a need in the marketplace invests capital — real money — to buy or lease property and equipment and buy pets to sell to consumers. He is incentivized to please his customers: He wants to make a living and a profit, and he wants a good reputation that will spread to other potential customers.

If he has a brain, he will know that if he purchases substandard puppies from unscrupulous, substandard kennels, the effect on his business won’t be good. Duh. How long will an apple seller last selling bruised apples?

And then there is the store owner who tries to operate on the cheap and con his customers. He buys from a shoddy mill and sells the puppies. His customers learn the truth — and, unfortunately, are burdened with a problem. But the word spreads. The con man disappears, and his supplier, the puppy mill, loses a buyer. This same experience occurs in other markets. Eventually, the mill owner either folds, attracts the policing arm of the law or (unlikely) is incentivized to clean up his operation.

The market takes time. But it works. And it works better than the law.

If Sarasota in Defense of Animals wants to put an end to unscrupulous puppy mills, rather than use the law, expend the effort to educate. Educate the pet-store owners and educate the consumers. There was a time in this country when Americans did not turn to their government to manage every aspects of our lives. There was a time when consumers lived by the best law of all, the law of the market: Caveat emptor …

Buyer beware.

Educate buyers to beware. We don’t need a puppy-mill ordinance. There is no compelling argument for the County Commission to intervene.

+ It’s only (others’) money
The federal government’s trillion-dollar budgets and long-term debt have so many zeroes that Americans seem to have lost perspective on the magnitude of numbers.

Let’s try this on you: Have you ever asked anyone for $1 million?

Even for a CEO who runs a company that generates $1 billion in annual sales, handing over $1 million isn’t done lightly or haphazardly.

Now consider these numbers:

• $11,100,000,000

That’s how much U.S. taxpayers lost in the General Motors bailout — $11.1 billion.

• $17,400,000,000

That’s how much GM bondholders lost when the federal government took control of GM. Poof! Gone.
And yet when you read or heard the news reports that the federal government finally sold its remaining ownership of GM, most of the reports carried a tone that this was a successful government accomplishment — losing only $11.1 billion of other people’s money.

The reports say the federal government bailout saved the company and the American auto industry.
That is ridiculous conjecture. That claim presumes that GM would have folded and shut down altogether had not Bush and Obama stepped in with taxpayer money.

Hailing the bailout ignores what should have occurred: GM should have gone through legal bankruptcy proceedings the way most other mismanaged companies do. And in that orderly process, the marketplace would have determined what should be saved and jettisoned. Instead, government interveners confiscated $50 billion from taxpayers and ultimately lost $11.1 billion of that money. That’s a victory?



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