Friday, February 7, 2014


Christopher Westley is an associate scholar at the Mises Institute. He teaches in the College of Commerce and Business Administration at Jacksonville State University. His original article can be viewed here (but I have fun with it in its entirety below).
Christopher Westley: (slowly rubs wrists) My clothes dryer went bust the day after Christmas, leading to one of the more common frustrations we face in the modern nation-state.

Analog Schemes: Oh. Hi there. The Emperor has been expecting you.

Christopher Westley:You see, there was a time when one’s dryer broke, the owner faced two options: have it repaired or buy a new one. The owner would weigh the costs and benefits of each, make a decision, and then move on to other things. But those days are gone. Now when an appliance goes on the fritz, a dreaded third option is increasingly being foisted upon us: that of fixing it yourself.

Analog Schemes: So, you have accepted the truth.

Christopher WestleyNow, self-repair was probably a more common choice back during my grandfather’s generation. But as the economy expanded and per capita incomes grew, the time spent repairing one’s own appliances meant less time working in the market. Toward the end of his career, my grandfather — the owner of a sheet metal business in Waukesha, Wisconsin — probably paid others to repair his appliances so he could better focus on serving his own customers.

Analog Schemes: That name no longer...the symbology...[shakes head, stammers]...wait, what?

Christopher Westley:This is one example of how the expansion of wealth made possible under capitalism leads to the creation of new jobs that did not exist previously. We don’t know what alternatives to appliance repair these repairmen would have chosen as careers had the repair market for labor not opened up — and even this development would never have occurred without entrepreneurs from previous generations introducing appliances to the home in the first place — but we can be sure it would have brought them less benefit. If this were not (apodictically) true, they would have chosen those alternatives instead of their actual careers in appliance repair.

Analog Schemes: I once thought as you do. You don't seem to understand the power of a wrench.

Christopher WestleyWith my own broken dryer, I could have dipped into savings and bought a new low-end model for about half a grand, but this was an option I wanted to avoid. I could have contacted a repair service, but the cost could have easily reached the price of a new machine.

Analog Schemes: And the repair guy probably would have answered his phone with a tone that accused you of taking a dump on the hood of his car. But that's more of a customer service issue, isn't it?

Christopher WestleyBoth outcomes result from restrictions on market forces that hinder both the supply of dryers and availability of repair. “Energy Star” compliance standards on appliances have increased production costs so as to cartelize this industry while providing only negligible benefits in terms of power efficiency. Meanwhile, labor market interventions, especially on the entry-level side of the market, have reduced the supply of repairmen, thus allowing existing repairmen the ability to claim higher wages than they would otherwise. For people (like myself) who do not live in a big city, even finding a repairman can be difficult.

The end result: The effects of government failure were reaching into my home and savings. Worse, they were forcing me to embrace the dreaded third option. I chose to fix my dryer myself.

Analog Schemes: Your decision was an act of revolution against the very systems of which you speak. I'm failing to see the downside.

Regarding the negligible benefits of Energy Star standards: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that this "voluntary" program is responsible for the energy efficiency improvements seen since the Energy Star's establishment in 1992, yet — as efficiency improvements would be voluntary in and of themselves anyway — clearly there are either 1)benefits for participating in the program, or (more likely) 2)penalties for not. Reasonably speaking, one needs a washer and dryer, so the purchase of a first unit is necessary. But the best thing that one who questions the validity of the EPA's noble claims can do is to buy one unit, and then never, ever buy another. Multiple purchases give power to what is clearly a coercive and destructive system, and participation in such a system only furthers the destruction's reach.

And — while it may seem like a cold reaction — if labor market interventions (minimum wage, benefit requirements, etc.) are allowing existing repairmen to claim higher wages than they would otherwise, your decision is a decision to not participate in a market which you see as suffering from the destructive symptoms of external forces of coercion and manipulation. Let them charge what they want. Your decision to not participate is an act of revolution against the system that caused the high prices that you don't want to pay.

Christopher WestleyThis decision was not made gleefully. I am not a tool guy. My comparative advantages tend not to include ratchet sets and elbow grease. What’s more, I resented being forced to teach myself skills my grandfather and his generation gladly gave up when market forces developed to a point at which they could. My situation smacked of societal devolution poking its cloven hoof into my laundry room.

Analog Schemes: On the contrary, your decision flies in the face of a system that depends on your buy-in in order to exist. Again, by not buying a new unit or paying for what you viewed to be an overpriced repair, you removed power from the very system which caused you to make arrive at your decision in the first place. Withdrawal from interdependent markets which are manipulated by forces far beyond your control is not a selfish act, but rather an act of responsibility.

Christopher WestleyBut I plowed ahead and soon learned I was far from being alone in my predicament and that, in fact, huge masses of individuals across the country are being forced by similar artificial circumstances to take on last-minute appliance repair training against their will. In response, the Internet is today chocked full of repair manuals that can be accessed after a few clicks into a search engine, while there are thousands of repair-oriented YouTube [videos] uploaded by heroic experts explaining how to diagnose and then repair seemingly any appliance problem.

Tasks such as replacing a dryer motor or belt become much less daunting when you can watch someone else do it, step-by-step, in a video that’s posted by a professional and played by a novice — all for a zero price. While I watched several such videos, it occurred to me that they were part of a vast, spontaneous, decentralized, and unregulated training system that has emerged to counter the adverse effects of government intervention. Which lead me to ponder (as I unplugged my dryer and pulled it away from the wall): What similar market innovations developed in the former Soviet Union that made life somewhat bearable there? As the size and scope of government in the United States grows, what further workarounds will people be forced to instigate to make life bearable here? Will subversive videos explaining do-it-yourself surgery pop up once prices in health care are completely abolished?

Analog Schemes: (nervous laugh) Ha ha ha...let's cross that bridge when we get there.

Christopher WestleyThese spontaneous training systems are far from perfect. They are clearly second-best, with first-best being those market options made unseen and unattainable due to violent interventions in market forces. But they are more than good enough. I’m proof of it. If an economist like me who was heretofore unaware that ratchets were measured in both inches and centimeters can replace a dryer belt and motor with the help of a few hastily found YouTube friends, then they serve much more than the social good.

They also serve the poor, especially, who suffer the most when government restricts market choice. May all of us who use these resources apply at least some of their economized funds to fight back against an overweening government that makes them necessary in the first place.

Analog Schemes: Second-best systems are far less evil than participation in a coercive and destructive system. You may have chosen a system which took from your time, but your sacrifice of time may serve future generations beyond what it serves you in clean or dry clothes. So, smile and rejoice in your revolution when the next appliance breaks!