Wednesday, April 12, 2017

United Airlines and the Sweet Use of Force

Everyone is having a grand old time about United Airlines calling the cops to drag a passenger off one of its airplanes, because he wouldn't give up his seat as ordered.

A lot of people are saying "there oughta be a law." Or that airlines should give up overbooking. But that is stupid. United Airlines has been punished enough already. And every other airline has taken note.

I want to talk about that charming phrase of Deirdre McCloskey: "the sweet use of force." This in a series of books about how the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years is due to the, probably accidental, absence of force. The Great Enrichment came from innovation that government failed to smother in its cradle.

Now it seems that at the Chicago gate at which United Flight 4311 was overbooked, there weren't enough volunteers for bumping at the price offered by United officials at the gate. But the airline just had to get four United employees to the destination so they could fly an aircraft the following morning. So the officials, instead of raising the ante, looked in the rule book and discovered that they had the legal power to remove people from the airplane by force.

So, with the sweet use of force they solved their little problem and got their United crew on the flight so that they could report for duty at the destination airport next morning.

But the point of capitalism, of markets, of money, of prices is that you can get things done without force.

And that is the most amazing and wonderful thing in the world.

Force always looks tempting to the man or woman that has men with guns at their command. But force is a very blunt weapon. And humans really hate being on the receiving end of force.

Now, I understand that when it comes to their own money, most everyone is a Scrooge. They don't want to spend it on other people.

But that doesn't change the wonderful thing about money that it removes the need for force.

Let us imagine a blissful socialist community in, say, New Harmony, Indiana. The blissful communitarians decide that David Dao is going to be responsible for cleaning out the pigsties. But David says no.

Now what? Does the community just try to persuade David? Does it start a whispering campaign among the women to name and shame him into obedience? Does it send him to New Harmony jail until he reconsiders? Or does it put the dirty job of pigsty cleaning up for bid? As they used to say in northern England: "where there's muck there's brass." Brass means money for those of you unacquainted with northern English.

But wait! There is no money in New Harmony! So force is the only option.

Fortunately Chicago is not New Harmony. Money is permitted in the Windy City, although it can't be doing its job very well, given the level of murder in the Windy City. In the case of the United flight waiting at the gate in Chicago money is an option. What would persuade four people to give up their seats? Would it be $1,000 each? $1,500? $2,000 and a year's membership at the United Club lounge? Whatever the price, I am sure it is less than the price United Airlines is going to pay for the sweet use of force when money, money, money would have solved the problem in a heartbeat.

All you big government fans, please copy. Your policy of force looks cheap to you, but it costs a lot more in the long run.

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