Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Socialist Marketplace

While reading Khrushchev Remembers (translated by Strobe Talbott, Little, Brown, 1970) I came across a very illustrative anecdote. Khrushchev was in Yugoslavia, meeting with Tito to smooth over Soviet-Yugo relations, probably in 1963. He had a brief conversation with the Yugoslav dictator expressing Soviet envy of the comparatively lucrative Yugoslav tourist industry.
One issue that Khrushchev found pertinent was avoiding the national embarrassment that occurs when foreign tourists are swarmed by local youth wanting to buy the tourists’ clothes. Tito told Khrushchev that whenever the party-state apparatus noticed an emerging fashion trend they set up a factory to make the desired items themselves. Khrushchev thought the concept very interesting. Tito qualified his remark by noting that fashion trends can change capriciously… and that some thought is required to try to stay current with the likes and dislikes of the consumers.
How anal can you get? Somehow the government has to be in charge of satisfying the public’s sumptuary desires. Dictators, planners… well, they’re all dictators.
In California we had a fairly recent experience with a governor who had serious socialist tendencies. Remember Gray Davis? Aptly named, he presided over the electrical crisis of 2000. Because of abjectly moronic public policy we had a shortage of electricity at the retail level. Rather than let market pricing sort out the consumers’ priorities, or stimulate increased supply… he imposed price controls and then ran an ad blitz imploring the public to conserve, conserve, conserve.
The state subsidized the price controls and went broke. Davis was recalled… and the state is still broke. Why are these people so freakin’ scared of markets? Head shrinkers call it agoraphobia: fear of public places… but agora is Latin for marketplace.
My theory is that these pinko dictator-planner types can’t abide the fluid chaos that continuously settles discrepancies between buyers and sellers. Where’s the opportunity for a self-important autocrat to take control?
About fifteen years ago a friend dragged me off to Berkeley to see Cornell West and Michael Lerner (the Bay Area’s best known phony rabbi) explain to the true believers how Jews and Blacks can find common ground in the new utopia. The answer was simple: they are both caught in the struggle against oppressive capitalism.
Lerner went on to say that stores (you know, where you go to buy stuff) should not have cash registers or posted prices. Such practices were oppressive. Customers should just pay the proprietor what they felt fair and take their stuff and leave. Years later, somewhere back East, some trust fund baby squandered her inheritance trying to find the virtue in such a dumb-ass idea.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Will Oakland Actually Take On The Disabled Placard Fraudsters?

Regular readers of this blog know that I've pointed out several times the ridiculous number of cars parked all day long on city streets with disabled placards.

This wouldn't be a big deal if it weren't for the fact that they apparently are allowed to park there all day, and naturally they are not required to pay a dime.

To add insult to injury, my experience has been that when I do see someone retrieving or parking a car with the placard, 75 percent of the time the person has no apparent disability.

Several years back, Oakland attempted a crackdown on these rogue parkers. Obviously they didn't do enough, because it remains a serious problem.

Not only do these folks take spots that law-abiding citizens could use, they also increase the costs to everyone else by not paying for their own meters.

I had the privilege of witnessing a particularly ridiculous example of this abuse just a couple months ago.

One of the few reasons I ever go downtown in Oakland is to visit my dentist. Her office is on Franklin, and I usually park on Webster, since there are often empty spaces there on the block parallel to my dentist's office.

This particular time, I had difficulty finding a spot, and I noticed that it seemed like a lot of the cars parked there had disabled placards. So, once I found a spot I walked up and down both sides of not only that block but each adjacent block as well -- both sides of three blocks in total.

I kept count. There were 34 cars parked on the stretch of road. Of these, 31 had disabled placards. On the block parallel to my dentist, every single car had a disabled placard.

Now, one could point out that this situation really doesn't matter that much, since downtown Oakland isn't exactly the spot most people want to go to park and shop. As I already admitted, I pretty much avoid this area.

But if Oakland wants to improve and gentrify -- a goal we should all want for our city -- we need reasonable access to parking downtown. Just yesterday, the Oakland Tribune reported on two developers planning to invest $10 million in the downtown region.

Such investments cannot make economic sense if the city is unwilling to provide reasonable access to drivers.

The city's absurd new policy of ticketing parking spots until 8pm just serves to reinforce the notion that downtown is closed for business.

Just last week, I attended a meeting at 7pm near Lake Merritt. I knew enough to put money in the meter, but as I walked down the block I noticed that no other cars had done the same.

Now, admittedly, several had disabled placards and so didn't need to pay. But those without placards might receive a rude awakening once the police starts to seriously enforce that stupid law.

I was happy to see that some are now suggesting not only that the 8pm time limit be rolled back, but also that police should target those with disabled placards.

As I've suggested on this blog before, cracking down on the disabled placards is pretty straightforward.

All the police need to do is select some set of placards on the street each day and monitor them until the owner returns. Obviously, the ticket would have to be large enough to justify the staffing required.

Better yet, the city could enact an ordinance allowing the police to simply issue cars a provisional ticket, which could be cleared by simply calling a phone number and having the cop come by to void it. Since the cop would be in the area, this would take no more than a couple minutes.

Or, the law could simply be changed to require those with disabled permits to pay for parking. The amount could be lower than that charged to the able-bodied, but just getting these people into the system would make things much easier to control.

The bottom line is we obviously have an enormous number of people who take cars belonging to disabled parents or relatives, drive them to work downtown and leave them parked all day.

It's a situation the city has ignored too long. And in light of this idiotic 8pm meter limit, it's high time the city took steps to solve the problem.