I’m not saying regulation isn’t necessary. I am saying the cost to comply with it is much higher than it first appears.
Take this common story.
I don’t spend much money on cars. I can usually find an older car for around $5,000, then I drive it until it drops. Don’t laugh. I once bought a Datsun 210 for $500, drove it every day for eight years and sold it for $950.
They say hot cars attract women, which explains my love life.
Another advantage of buying older used cars, beyond the involuntary celibacy, is you save enough money to buy your daughter an even older, uglier used car.
The downside is it might need a few more repairs than a newer one.
The transmission in my daughter’s very stylish, just-as-nice-as-any-of-her-friends’-brand-new-cars (no matter how much she tries to convince me otherwise) 2008 Nissan Altima blew out.
Repairing it might have made sense, until our trusted mechanics informed us it also needed a new catalytic converter. Replacing that might still have made sense until they informed us that since our “affordability” governor signed on to the California emission standards, a standard converter isn’t allowed. The California-approved one is three-times the cost.
So now it was time to comply — to simply get all the papers from the government to say you can keep what you just bought.
First stop, emissions testing, where we wait in line for our turn to then wait in, literally, a glass box as a group of guys run a test. We get our piece of paper.
The next piece of paper is a lot easier because it isn’t a government monopoly. A phone call to our insurance agent gets us a near immediate email with proof of insurance.
Those papers, along with proof of sales, the old car title, driver’s license and check book should allow us to get the ultimate paper — a tin plate to put on the car bumper.
So, off to the Boulder County Clerk’s office. In fairness we could have made an online appointment, but there wasn’t one available for at least a week. We take our number and wait for an hour-and-a-half. An-hour-and-a-half.
This gives me plenty of time to count the nearly 50 people, also waiting an hour-and-a-half. Added together that’s 75 man-hours completely wasted (or 75 person-hours if it makes you more comfortable) — two full work weeks for one person of lost productivity, lost time with loved ones, volunteering, enjoying Colorado’s splendor, or just zoning out to re-runs of Star Trek, just to wait in a government line.
The hour-and-a-half gave me time to count the dozen kind, truly polite people working behind the counter. But these good folks haven’t created anything new, like the cars they are shuffling papers over.
Bureaucracy only exists if the private sector can afford it. Boring economists say it this way, before wealth can be redistributed it first must be created.
That’s a fancy way of saying bureaucrats produce nothing new. They regulate what and how others produce.
If they weren’t shuffling paper, no matter how vital those papers might be, they might be flipping hamburgers. At the end of the day, we’d at least have more hamburgers which people eat, not more papers which people can’t.
The economic concept I’m trying to get across here is called “opportunity cost.” And it is not just the time and money that, in this case, the car owners can’t get back, it is also other governmental services that could have been paid for.
Again, I’m not saying all this lost human potential isn’t worth it to have cars taxed, insured and clean.
I am saying that as the regulatory state exploding in Polis’s Colorado plays out in thousands of thousands of ways, this opportunity cost multiplies thousands and thousands of times.
Polis’s regulatory orgy costs much more than all the taxes he has increased without voter approval.
It’s the lost opportunity of people fulfilling their own potential while they and their business spend their time, energy and money complying.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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