One of the basic libertarian axioms (at least for many of the libertarians I’ve read) is that a completely deregulated market is a sweet deal for us consumers. The market doesn’t need government to make businesses do right; they have to do right to attract customers. If they fail to give good service (or good products), we shop with someone else and they go belly-up.
Last week’s godawful flight was a reminder what a load of codswallop that is.
I like flying, but the decades since the government deregulated air flight in 1978 (not complete deregulation), it hasn’t gotten better for us consumers. If anything, the airlines thrive on making things worse, then offering extra money to upgrade. As the Consumerist blog put it, though I can’t find the link, it’s in their interest to make us miserable so we’ll upgrade. Seats are small (and could get worse), service is poor and the airlines stay solvent by not having much redundancy: if a flight gets canceled or a crew member doesn’t show, it’s often not easy to find an alternative (in fairness, there are financial reasons for that).
Or consider calling your Internet service, power company, insurer … well, pretty much anyone. Some small businesses pick up the phone; with big ones (or even slightly big ones) it’s a tedious slog through a phone network. In one case (dealing with one of my mother’s banks), I could not find an answer in the list of “press 1 for X, 2 for Y” options.
Having human operators would be a vast improvement, but that would cost them money; much better to stick us with the wasted time we spend on the phone (Slacktivist points out that we also get the burden of handling Internet and debit card security).
In both cases, we consumers are stuck. It’s often impractical or massively inconvenient to drive out of state (to Mysticon, for instance). If we need to talk to someone on the phone, we need to talk to someone on the phone. And unless we have a boatload of alternatives, we’re stuck. So we suffer, they make more money and the shareholders/owners suck it up. Which is why I also see libertarians explaining this is the way it should be: the only people companies aren’t allowed to screw over are the owners.
Just to be fair, I’ll look at a counter-argument. The conservative flagship National Review has been a welfare case for years. They rely on donations, even to pay their legal bills in a case a few years ago. So they’re not depending on success with consumers to stay afloat. And without the pressure to compete in the marketplace we get articles like Kevin D. Williamson’s (yes, that Kevin D. Williamson. Who’s also the Kevin D. Williamson who claimed Romney was more of a man than Obama because five sons beats two daughters) explanation for why Swedish-style socialized medicine won’t work here. To wit, because Swedes are responsible, while Americans just mooch and want a handout. No, it doesn’t make any sense — but without free-market pressure, it doesn’t have to.