L. Neil Smith's

Number 5, February, 1996.

Yet Another Route to Prosperity Closed in Pursiut of 'Order'

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Under a new ordinance which went into effect Jan. 22, residents of Las Vegas, Nev. can draw a $100 fine for displaying or selling vehicles on vacant lots without the permission of the property's owner.
         "It's really an eyesore," says Lt. Don Bell of the city's Department of Detention, describing the practice of private sellers who often paint a price on the windshield and park their vehicles near well-traveled street corners. "You run into some areas, there's 10 to 20 cars, boats, motor homes."
         Matt Naito was one of two parking enforcement officers who spent Sunday, Jan. 21, on the lookout for illegally stationed vehicles.
         So far "We just let them know that it's against the law," Naito said. The tickets, the fines and the towing will start next week.
         While having such an ordinance on the books does little enough harm in and of itself, this proposed method of enforcement is pernicious. It is a restriction of trade and economic liberty. It has very little to do with "eyesores," and a whole lot to do with the complaints of the owners of better-established car lots, who moan that the wandering "gypsy" salesmen can undercut their prices, since they don't need to sustain the overhead which the city imposes on businesses at established locations through taxes, license fees, special assessments, and the like.
         When those taxpaying businesses complain, and their competition consists of private individuals with no professional lobbying organization, on whose side do you suppose the city's protection racket swings into gear? And who suffers, in the end? The consumer, that's who. With their choices further limited, and less competition to discipline the established lots, car buyers are inevitably forced to pay higher prices.
         Wait: the next argument will be that the fly-by-night streetcorner salesmen sometimes sell vehicles with undisclosed mechanical flaws, thus "damaging the reputation of the used car business, overall."
         I've got two responses to that:
         1) The fact that the established dealers might still be there to honor a warranty is one of their selling points. A factor that puts their competition at a disadvantage is hardly a reason to close the competition down.
         2) "Damaging the reputation of the used car business"?
         If property owners are upset to discover unauthorized persons conducting car sales on their property, they have every right to call police and complain. Frankly, I suspect existing trespass laws might have sufficed. But if this new ordinance makes it easier for the cops to act on such complaints, fine.
         However, where there is no complaint from a property owner, the presumption of law enforcement should be that all voluntary commerce is legal and proper. To take the opposite view -- that anyone selling something anywhere but at a licensed, taxed business location must be breaking the law -- draws us ever nearer the paralytic state of free enterprise "by government permission" which still cripples every attempt to revive the economies of Eastern Europe.
         Americans are constantly asking these days: "Why do we have so many homeless? Why do I see so many bums? Why don't these lazy characters find themselves some work and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?"
         One way to do that, for a fellow down on his luck but with some mechanical skills, has always been to buy a used vehicle, fix it up, and then park it alongside a busy road and sell it for a profit.
         Las Vegas has just made that a crime. Thus, the city mothers of what used to be the nation's most laissez-faire town slap down a few dozen more eager entrepreneurs, telling them: "Don't even bother. Just sign up for your welfare check and go stand in line at the soup kitchen. If you try to use your skills to start a little business, we'll seize your car for starters, and maybe even throw you in jail."
         So is a free economy destroyed -- not by Communist paratroops dropping from the sky to intern our patriots behind barbed wire at the local drive-in, but inch by inch, in bites so small we don't even notice, each masked by another lisping pronouncement about what a disorganized "eyesore" the free market is.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail vin@lvrj.com. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

Pallas, the new sci-fi adventure novel by L. Neil Smith is out in paperback from Tor. Is there room for a socialist utopia on an individualist asteroid?
Now available at good bookstores everywhere!

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