Are you really going to indirectly compare “babies with cancer” and “getting a ride?”

If anyone was wondering why the endlessly breathless hipster-press gets the stink-eye, I think I can hook you up.

Alexander Williams
Feb 11, 2017 · 3 min read

Okay, timeout.

When you open your article — when the lead paragraph — is patent bullshit, you significantly undercut your credibility.

“Though the vaunted free market has no incentives to, say, take care of babies with cancer.”

You mean, aside from all those people who care about babies with cancer? Some of whom have babies with cancer, some of whom just care that there are babies with cancer, many of whom are medical professionals who went into the business because of babies with cancer, outside of all the researchers who are focused on issues around babies with cancer, because a vast number of people care about babies with cancer and are willing to — and this is where the free market comes in — actually spend their own money in order to “take care of babies with cancer.”

Like, here in reality. Apparently not where you live.

See, markets offer an opportunity for consumers to signal that they would like toilet paper, or a bushel of apples, or care for babies with cancer — because they want those things. Because they want those things, they are willing to give resources to another person who is able or interested in providing those things. Willingly.

Once you start applying external pressure to markets, i.e. making them “not free,” you distort the markets. If the government artificially depresses the cost of a bushel of apples, everybody wants more apples and fewer people are interested in providing those apples. Scarcity increases. If the government regulates the fiber content of toilet paper, along with creates an increasingly Baroque set of regulations geared to “protect the consumer” (ultimately by restricting their choice), not only do fewer people want governmentally regulated toilet paper because they have fewer choices that appeal to them, fewer companies want to provide that regulated toilet paper.

Now, people really want to take care of babies with cancer. It’s a hot button issue. There is no question that a lot of people are very interested in taking care of babies with cancer. However, caring about taking care of babies with cancer is not magic just because people care about it more at an emotional level. The magnitude of that care may be the only saving grace when pressures external to the market (and here I mean governmental intervention but it applies equally to any sort of external pressure) begin to intervene, reducing choices, introducing new regulatory costs, artificially depressing the amount that providers who, in fact, really want to take care of babies with cancer, can ask for that very much demanded service.

You can’t just wave your Baby Wand and make the last several hundred years of experience with economics and markets suddenly conform to your narrative — I don’t care who you are.

One could even take it as more than slightly insulting to your audience that you open by making an appeal to “taking care of babies with cancer”, one of the most highly regulated and externalized markets in our economy and then proceed to talk about distorting external pressures making markets not work in Lyft and Uber.

You go from something intensely personal and critical (like taking care of babies with cancer) and go off to talk about “getting a ride.” That’s not a tone mismatch; that’s a tone whiplash of a magnitude that rivals Thai action films.

That’s embarrassing. Truly, truly embarrassing.

Alexander Williams

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