Some New Year's advice
The New Year is a time to resolve to break bad habits. So as we ring in 2015, here are some bad habits that I wish government would break.
• Minimum-wage legislation. If government were to break this nasty habit, many more teenagers, immigrants and other unskilled workers would be able to get their feet in the door of economic opportunity. No longer would these workers' inability to produce for employers hourly value at least as high as the minimum wage keep these workers indefinitely unemployed.
The minimum wage is among the most shameful scams ever perpetrated on the poorest and most disadvantaged workers. Just as con artists dupe unsuspecting targets with get-rich-quick schemes, politicians dupe unsuspecting poor workers with the get-higher-wages-quick scheme that is the minimum wage.
• The public-school monopoly. This monopoly is yet another scam that inflicts disproportionately great damage on people who are the poorest and least advantaged. How could it not? Those who run K-12 government schools aren't paid by customers who voluntarily send their children to those schools and who could easily choose to send their children elsewhere. Instead, these teachers and officials are paid by governments that tax citizens regardless of how many children those citizens have in schools and regardless of how well the schools perform. Therefore, with funding that is independent of customer choice — and with each child assigned to a particular public school — public-school officials have little incentive to supply good education.
• Civil asset forfeiture. Governments at all levels today are addicted to the revenue highs they get from stealing people's property. Civil asset forfeiture is the banana-republic-esque practice of government officials accusing Jones of doing something wrong and then seizing the property that Jones allegedly used to commit this wrong, or seizing the cash that Jones allegedly got from his wrongful conduct. Trouble is, when government uses civil asset forfeiture, it doesn't actually have to formally accuse Jones of anything, much less actually find him guilty of the wrongdoing. Vague suspicion and unproven allegation are all that are legally necessary. Civil asset forfeiture is a twisted legal doctrine that undermines every tenet of due process and threatens to destroy the very foundations of private property and the rule of law.
• Immigration quotas. Human creativity and effort are the ultimate resource in free societies. This creativity and effort bring us fancy electronics such as smartphones and personal computers. But they also bring us an increased supply of food (through refrigeration and better packaging), cultural delights (such as recorded music that allows us to listen to Beethoven or the Beatles whenever we wish) and lifesaving drugs.
Allowing more immigrants to come here would allow a greater supply of the ultimate resource to move from societies that suppress this creativity and effort to a society where that creativity and effort will more likely be unleashed.
The benefits of liberalized U.S. immigration will flow not only to immigrants who thrive in the U.S., but to every American — indeed, to every person integrated into the global economy. Imagine a world with more Sergey Brins, Andy Groves and Pierre Omidyars. That world would have a larger number of entrepreneurial companies that expand economic opportunities for workers, offer better investment opportunities to people saving for retirement and supply more innovative products that improve our lives.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.