Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The difference between power and market

I recently changed some British sterling pounds for UAE Dhirams, at a Travelex exchange desk outside the security clearance area at Heathrow Terminal Three. As I got through the metal detector a message came over the Intercom. "Can Mr Maturin please return to the Travelex Desk". I instantly realised I had left my plastic bank card inside the PIN machine. I turned to go back out through the security checkpoint.

"I'm sorry," said a dull voiced British government security wonk, "now that you're through security, you can't go back."

What to do? Two weeks away and my bank card left in a Travelex shop, to fall to who knew what fate?

With a small amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins I approached a "security" desk. Three state chumps sat there, appearing to do "not much". I wondered how much each of them was costing me in salary and pension costs. Perhaps upwards of £50,000 a year each. As these were my servants, whom I pay for, I thought they might be able to help me.

I roused one of these wonder workers, whose probable only excitement in life is a once-a-week "random" test of the security system, every Tuesday, at 10:45am. I explained my situation to the chump. His expression ranged between not giving a monkeys and contempt.

JM: "Can I go back through security, and go back to the Travelex shop, and then straight back here again?"

Chump: "You can't do that. It's against immigration regulations."

JM: "Can one of you three accompany me out, and then accompany me back again?"

Chump: "We have to man this desk sir."

All three were doing absolutely nothing discernible. I suppose they may have been doing something intricate with their feet, but it wasn't showing up on their body postures. There was no-one else in the vicinity, except me. We were right beside the back of the Travelex shop. There was a door ten feet away labelled security, which fairly obviously went back out onto the external concourse. This was maddening.

JM: "So what do I do then?"

Chump: "You'll have to go through the terminal building, then through departures, then through customs and passport checks, then back up to the arrivals hall, get your card, then back through security."

This would have taken about 25 minutes at best and about 50 minutes at worst. My flight was leaving in one hour, with a last call in 45 minutes. Not the end of the world, but hardly what you might call convenient.

JM: "And there's no other way of doing it, and no way any of you three can help me?"

Chump: "No."

JM: "Could one of you go and get it for me?"

Chump: "That's against regulations."

All three men were openly on the verge of laughing at me now, despite my payment of their salaries and pensions, via her majesty's inland revenue department.

JM: "Well, Gentlemen, thanks for all of your help. I can see you're all really quite busy."

By this time my adrenaline was running quite high, and if I left it much longer I would really be pushing my flight to the wire. I then had a brainwave. I quickly walked up to the nearest Travelex inside the security zone and asked a busy desk member if they could get my card for me.

He looked a bit harassed, but made a quick phone call.

"Someone will be through in a minute with your card, sir. They had a trainee on today and she forgot to check the PIN machine was empty. We're sorry about that."

Sure enough, within five minutes a Travelex staff member had appeared and gave me back my card.

"Sorry it took me so long, sir. It's horrendous getting through airside security at this time in the morning."

Panic over.

And there we have the difference between power and market. Power is over-manned, lazy, inefficient, has poor to non-existent levels of service, is expensive, arrogant, is hidebound with rules, inflexible, sees the people who pay its wages as irrelevant insects, is contemptible, intolerant of mistakes, and robotic.

Whereas market is busy, efficient, serves the customer, helps to tackle mistakes, tries its best to get the job done as quickly as possible, is flexible, and is above all, human.

One serves itself. The other serves everyone else, despite being tied in knots by the rapacity of power.

Give me the market each and every day of the week.


Paul said...

Good one!

Anonymous said...

Jack, your experience was unfortunate but your comparisons even more so. Nobody, not even Mises has held the free market up as a pinnacle of morality; if there’s a free shilling to be made you can be sure the free market will be there first. Earn as much as possible for doing as little as possible has been its mantra and if there is half a crown or more to be made from government handouts, be sure the free market will be first there.
Rather than your two security personnel representing the worst of officialdom I would suggest that they represented the best of the free market so far as it affected them personally: doing as little as possible for the greatest reward. Maybe if they could have gone off and got another job as well they might have done so but clearly the level of supervision prevented them .
Maybe a fiver tucked conspicuously in your top pocket would have done the trick

Paul said...

I think Anonymous got it all wrong. He seems to think that moral behavior is about giving as much as one can without expecting anything in return. There are many free market thinkers and philosophers who disagree with that. Adam Smith comes to mind with his Theory of Moral Sentiments showing how human behavior in free setting (that is in free market) will produce morals and moral behavior.

The example Jack gave is classic - the representative of the free market - clerk from the exchange company helped Jack because of clerk's self interest, he is working for a company who tries to please people in order to get their business. The representatives of the state - security personnel were also acting in self interest, as they had already got Jack's money by force, they don't give a damn about pleasing him.

The first acted morally because of the combination of self interest and non-coercive relationship with Jack. The other failed to act morally because of the combination of self interest and coercion.

The free shillings can be made at the state apparatus because, in the free market you need to work hard for the money you earn. Not all people know that (because they never held an honest job).

Jack Maturin said...

Anonymous, I don't know where you get the idea that the 'free market' means the Lockheed Martins and Blackwaters of this world, who thrive on government handouts.

That, once again, is power at work, with government stealing from the people and then handing out this pelf to their friends and clients. I suppose you could call this 'Mercantilism' or 'Fascism', rather than straightforward socialism, but certainly it isn't free market capitalism.

Let's make this easy for you. Let's call the free market 'The voluntary sector' and the power market the 'involuntary sector', if that makes it easier for you.

The voluntary sector works when individuals strike freely-held deals with each other, to their mutual benefit. The involuntary sector 'works' when men come to your door and demand money with menaces (e.g. the inland revenue), which they then hand out to their friends, keeping back a healthy tithe for their own efforts.

The busy man at Travelex didn't help me because he felt undying love towards me.

He could have made up some excuse, and directed me towards passport control as the three government chumps had done. But the pressure of the free market, competition, the loss of future business for Travelex, the risk of losing present business due to an unhappy customer loudly declaring his dissatisfaction with Travelex in front of hundreds of potential customers, plus an unspoken part of the contract with me being that Travelex would make my transaction with them safe and secure, led him to postpone his break and help me.

The government chumps couldn't give a monkeys because whatever happened I had to pay them anyway, regardless of my opinion of them, or get shot resisting arrest for non-payment of taxes.

Yes, if there's a stolen penny to be made you can be sure the Blackwaters of this world, the Goldman Sachs, and all the other government-connected businesses in this world, will step up and help themselves to it, as you say.

I think this just further illustrates the point that the root of the problem is government. Get rid of that and there's no-one Blackwater or Haliburton can use as a proxy to extract cash for them, with menaces, from the the rest of us.

If they rob you directly, then it is obvious to all what they are; crooks.

I would suggest for you 'The Ethics of Liberty' by Rothbard, or 'Bureacracy' by Mises, for further study, if you're still unsure about any of this.

As to morals, if any of these three men had any, then they would give up their rotten boring tax eating government jobs and go and do something useful instead.

Can you indeed imagine anything worse, having to pretend to work for eight hours a day in a useless non-job to earn a miserable living sitting in a booth in Terminal Three of Heathrow at all hours of the night and day?

I wouldn't wish this dreadful punishment on my worst enemy.

It is an indictment of the state indoctrination system that free human beings choose such 'occupations' for themselves, rather than doing something that genuinely serves the needs of others, as can be demonstrated by other people freely offering to pay for these services.

Yes, as well, I suppose bribery might have got one of these chumps to help me, especially if they had been on their own, but is that what this country has really come to, Anonymous, an ersatz version of Nigeria?

Alas, perhaps it has. God help us all if you're right.

Anonymous said...

The free market is amorphous. This of course is its great advantage. It knows nothing of morality and cares less. The free market is all about getting the best deal for oneself and in the process everyone gets a good deal. Buyer tries to get the best deal and seller tries to get the best deal and they arrive at an accord, or not.
Scarce resources give the seller the edge but this is for the common good because a higher price for a scarce resource means a decline in consumption.
Labour is also a part of the free market. Not just the labour in the free market but all labour. Whether I loan my services to the public or the private sector I do so on terms that best suit me and if during that employment I see the opportunity to better my position by continuing to draw the same salary for a smaller amount of my time I will take it.
So Jack your security people were free agents in the free market and they saw the opportunity to do a little less for the same reward. The Travelex employee was not an excellent example of the free market working he was simply an example of how he was supervised and motivated.
I’m not saying that this is not a decent example of the lack of discipline in the work-place of the public service but I am saying they do not have a monopoly on such behaviour.
So Jack, maybe, just maybe a fiver conspicuously tucked into your top pocket might just have provided the motivation lacking in the workplace of your security men

Paul said...

Wow, Anonymous. You are in essence saying that the security guards were example of free market and the clerk was not?

Anonymous said...

No Paul, I have said that all labour is a part of the free market. How they are motivated and disciplined by the buyer of their services is another matter

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