Libertarians across the US were delighted when the Portsmouth Taxi Commission voted to eliminate regulations and disband itself, but the city council has predictably weighed in on the side of hand-wringing regulators, and tempered much of the enthusiasm around the proposed deregulation.
We even heard some of this very testimony before the city council. The question, as it was posed, was this:
“How can taxi-goers get good and safe service if the industry is run by profit seekers [UBER] instead of the regulated businesses that currently occupy the space?”
And this is where a lack of understanding when it comes to economics can be so dangerous.
What we can learn from the inventors of the flush toilet
When we look at the world around us, we must acknowledge that most of our greatest comforts come from the fact that someone, somewhere, wanted to better his/her OWN life by creating something of value for others, and selling it.
The man who popularized the modern flush toilet, for instance, very likely had other things he was more passionate about. But, seeing how desperate people were to deal with human waste expediently, he innovated, brought his goods to market, launched his product well, and sold over 800,000 uses of his water closets for a penny a piece at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Others, seeing various ways to improve these early designs, reaped similar profits at each step in the modern toilet’s evolution. In developed countries today, the problem of getting waste out of a structure in a sanitary way is something we all take for granted. This same problem kills people in less developed countries, and was a major cause of illness and death throughout human history.
We’ve moved into a much healthier and comfortable existence because people who very likely didn’t care much for dealing in excrement wanted to make a buck.
The disingenuous nature of attacking the innovative
The bizarre thing about the “war on profits” is the plain cognitive dissonance held by its most vocal soldiers.
On one hand, the small-business owner is lauded for bootstrapping his way to a family business. No one would dare level the epithet of “profit-seeker” at the third generation dry-cleaner downtown – even if he’d be doing something else altogether if money were no object.
Furthermore, in people’s personal lives, basically no one rejects salary increases from their place of employment, or negotiates for less money in the sale of their house.
But profits in these instances are held up as laudable and necessary – totally beyond reproach.
And then some imaginary line of “too much profit” is crossed, and people get out their pitch-forks.
“Profit-seekers,” sadly, are often those who have taken great personal risk, created things of incredible value, and, against all odds, managed to bring them to the masses.
Google gets this label, for instance, and the amount of value it has brought to the world by revolutionizing email alone (to say nothing of its work in Search Engines, or Google Maps, or Google Drive, etc) is incalculable. And it gives almost all of its world-changing services away at no cost to the end user!
Google has improved the human condition by leaps and bounds, and the entitled West turns its nose up when Google uses the information that its users type into its databases to turn more profits and offer more free services.
Profits – the world’s most honest communication
Far from being evil, turning a profit is a signal from your fellow human being that you are providing something they value. It is a sign, in essence, that you are helping them. They’re happy to part with their money for the value you bring them. They don’t buy from you to make you feel better, or to be polite – they buy because they think their life will be better for having purchased your service.
So, UBER folks, know that there are those of us who are grateful that you’re out there, trying to turn profits. Thanks for offering incredible services for us to purchase, should we decide. For challenging your competition. For inspiring the entrepreneurial fire in us. And for standing up to bullies who would just as soon see you go away.
We hope to see you here on the Freecoast for long into the foreseeable future.