Sunday, November 27, 2011

File this under 'unpersuasive'

To put it mildly.

Robert Frank wrote an op-ed claiming that there was an arms race in thanksgiving store opening hours which, of course, needed regulation. Tyler Cowen wrote about it, and Frank sent Cowen an email with some additional details. Included was the following anecdote about the recent allowing of Sunday trading hours in liquor stores in New York State :
I had a recent conversation about this issue with a friend in Ithaca who owns a wine store. Traditionally, New York State wine merchants were not allowed to do business on Sundays. But last year that restriction was repealed, and I asked my friend how the change had affected him.
His overall sales were about the same, he told me. The change had thus been a clear negative from his perspective, since it meant that he and his wife were no longer able to spend Sundays together with their children. The upside was that customers who lacked the foresight to shop in advance for their Sunday wine needs could now be accommodated. If we’re willing to discount the cost of an inconvenience suffered by those who could easily have avoided it, the costs in this case seem clearly to outweigh the benefits.

You don't say! If you're willing to discount the main cost of a given action, the benefits will frequently outweigh the costs. Feel free to try this with a range of meddling economic proposals:
-If you're willing to discount the millions in unrecoverable funds, the benefits of the government guarantee of Solyndra seem to clearly outweigh the costs.
-If you're willing to discount the cost of reduced competition and higher prices, the benefits of mandatory licensing of interior decorators clearly outweigh the costs.

But there's an easier way to tell that this proposal doesn't make sense. What's so special about Sundays? Why not restrict Mondays as well? Or only allow trading one day a week? After all, if we're willing to discount the inconvenience suffered by those who could easily have avoided it, these would clearly make sense too!

Eventually, the Robert Franks of the world would look at this and say, yes, but there's a limit, customers need some convenience.

But this implicitly acknowledges that his argument, as phrased, is a crock. It's not that you can actually 'discount the cost of an inconvenience suffered by those who could easily have avoided it', but instead that Robert Frank thinks that the inconvenience they suffer is less valuable than the benefit to the liquor store owners.

To which I ask, how exactly are you arriving at that conclusion? Because it sounds a lot like you're just pulling that conclusion out of your @**, and you'd have no idea what the actual inconvenience to customers is, nor how many of them there are, nor how to value it.

Personally, I cannot fathom a theory of government that says if I want to open my store at 9am, 4pm or 2am to sell you a computer, a suit, or a bottle of whisky, why it is any business whatsoever of the government's. A government that is willing to intrude in this is willing to intrude in absolutely anything.

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