Municipal Politics: The Freest Political Market

Municipal Politics: The Freest Political Market

One criterion employed by many considering government intervention in a market is the extent to which that market is free and competitive. And one of the most important factors determining the degree to which a market is free and competitive is the cost of entry into the market.

Let’s take a simple comparison: lawn service versus automotive manufacturing.

The cost of entry into the lawn service market is relatively small: a lawn mower, a lawn trimmer, a hedge clipper, a leaf blower and perhaps something for trimming the lower limbs off trees. One probably could start out with less (most of us who did lawns as kids certainly did).

Contrast this with automotive manufacturing. The capital investment necessary to compete in this market is staggering. The materials necessary for automobile fabrication are not cheap. The manufacturing equipment is tremendously expensive. Even if one is going in for the hand-crafted approach, the range of tools required to build a marketable car is substantial, as is the associated cost. Given such high costs of entry, it is not at all surprising that an oligopoly rules the automotive industry.

Put simply: the low cost of entry into the lawn service market fosters competition. The high cost of entry into the automotive manufacturing market inhibits it. Following the logic above, we don’t need a lot of regulation in the lawn service industry; we need comparatively more in the automotive industry.

I’d like to suggest that the same logic be applied to political markets.

The less free and competitive the political “market” is for the elected offices in a government, the more it may be appropriate to adopt regulations controlling and limiting that government. The more free and competitive, the less it need be constrained.

Where do we find the freest political markets in Florida? In our cities.

The entry costs to campaign for municipal office in Florida are incredibly low. Most cities have populations of less than 6,000. The cost of a campaign can be as little as the cost of a few thousand simple brochures and one’s sweat equity. In other words, running for municipal office, in most cities, is a lot like starting a lawn service.

By contrast, getting into the market for a Florida House seat is an expensive proposition. The typical district contains more than 150,000 residents . . . the equivalent of roughly 28 median-size Florida cities. The median expenditure of the winner in each of Florida’s 120 state House races in 2016 was over $150,000 (I calculated this from the data here).  In other words, running for a state House seat is a lot like trying to start an automotive manufacturing company.

Where competition abounds, we should let the market determine the nature and cost of the services being provided as much as possible. That means leaving businesses in free and competitive markets with largely unfettered freedom to respond to consumer needs and wishes, constrained only by the regulation necessary to protect public safety, individual rights and the overall well-being of society.

And it means letting elected leaders in what are truly competitive political markets, Florida’s cities, have similarly unfettered freedom to meet their residents needs and wishes, limited only by the same larger concerns.

Let the political free market rule!