Ari Armstrong, Business/Economy, Exclusives, Governor Polis, Politics

Armstrong: Ghost of Nixon’s past haunts Polis on price controls

Jared Polis awoke at the noise, startled. Clatter-thump. Clatter-thump. He sprang out of bed to look for a hiding place, but it was too late. The door creaked open as Polis pressed himself against the wall. At first all Polis could see was a point of light. Then, slowly, he made out a candle, then tattered clothing, then a haggard face.

For a moment he thought Mike Willis had burst in to berate him about something, but no. It was an alien face, translucent, yet strangely familiar. The apparition raised two fingers in the air and declared, “I am not a ghost!” It was Nixon!

“I mean, yes I am a ghost, obviously. What I mean is, I’m not the sort of ghost aiming to possess you or tear you apart or vomit green slime on you. I am here to admonish and warn you.”

Polis, now wondering about that meatless salami his husband made him eat, replied, “Wait a minute, you mean this is just A Christmas Carol? Isn’t that a little overworn even for a food-induced nightmare? Anyway, what are you here for? It’s not like I spy on my political opponents. Not that I would need to! Have you seen that campaign?” With this Polis momentarily forgot the imposing figure in front of him and chortled.

THUMP! Nixon, impatient, pulled at his chains, which he had just heaved into a heap onto the floor. “Watch who you’re calling a nightmare. Listen, I don’t have a lot of time here. I was sent down by the ghost of Milton Friedman after Milt saw a magazine call you maybe ‘the most libertarian governor in America,’ and then he saw you signed off on several price-control bills.”

“Wait a minute,” Polis answered. “You imposed economy-wide wage and price controls starting back in 1971, before I was even born. No one’s stupid enough to do that anymore! Not in this country anyway. I didn’t try to do that.”

“No, you didn’t try anything that foolish. Boy, some Coloradans were so damn angry back then they started the Libertarian Party there partly over those policies! I heard Ludwig von Mises wants someone to give that group a good talking to, but I digress. You still signed a number of limited price-control bills. You can’t cheat the law of supply and demand! Believe me I tried. As Milt said, price controls are like putting a brick on a kettle rather than turning down the heat.”

Polis, thinking fast, tried to change the subject. “Say, Richard, have I told you how I can SAVE YOU MONEY on some chain oil so yours don’t rattle as bad? Maybe a temporary tax credit that’ll come out of TABOR refunds? Heck, I bet we could even get you a wagon subsidy to haul them around, as long as it has a battery in it somewhere!”

“Listen, they don’t call me Tricky Dick for nothing,” the spirit replied. “This is a haunting, not your ‘Colorado Cashback’ circus. Time to go.”

Polis wage and price controls

Nixon and Polis stood in a grocery aisle, invisible to others, as people frantically looked for essential items. The shelves were bare despite the rationing signs. Nixon spoke, “You signed the emergency ‘price gouging’ law, which encourages people to stockpile goods rather than economize and discourages people from bringing in new supplies.”

“Oh come on, Dick; I couldn’t veto my own party’s price-gouging bill! Those Progressives would have eaten me alive! They care about perceptions and wagging their fingers at the ‘mean’ people, not about economic realities.”

“You don’t think I know a thing or two about playing to perceptions? People can’t eat or heat their houses with perceptions and good intentions,” Nixon replied.

Next Polis and Nixon stood in a smoke-filled room of chuckling cigarette-smoking executives. One of the men, nearly in tears from laughing so hard, said, “And then I told Polis that we’d oppose the cigarette tax unless he damaged our smaller competitors by putting a price floor on our products! I couldn’t believe he fell for that!” Nixon didn’t say a word. Neither did Polis.

The scene changed again. A man lay dying in a hospital bed. Polis overheard a doctor in the hall tell a family member, “We’re so sorry; there’s just nothing else we could do.” Polis looked baffled.

“You deserve only a small amount of the blame here, by signing SB21-175 establishing price controls on drugs,” Nixon explained. “That bill is just one aspect of a much broader movement to try to compensate for government-induced increases in health costs by imposing price controls in medicine. Sure, government does a great deal to artificially prop up the costs of some drugs, such as insulin, but price controls just cause other problems. In this case, because of price controls on its existing drugs, a company could not afford to develop a new drug that would have saved this man’s life.”

The fog rolled in, then dissipated. “I don’t understand,” Polis said as they next visited an elderly woman as she sat at a table with a tear rolling down her face.

“This woman used to work as a part-time nanny, but, with the local minimum wage hike that you authorized with HB19-1210, the family could no longer afford her. Now they put their child in a big-box childcare facility while this woman sits at home, alone. Remember, wage controls are just price controls on the work people do for others. They forbid people to accept a job for less than the government demands. Sure, some people benefit from higher pay, while others lose their jobs or never find one they want.”

Polis and rent control

“We have one more place to visit,” Nixon said. A family finished packing up their SUV and a small moving trailer, loaded up, and started down the road to Texas.

“When you authorized local governments to impose rent controls (another sort of price controls) on new construction with HB21-1117, that slowed building. Governments had already driven housing costs sky-high by imposing all sorts of building mandates and restrictions. This family made too much money to qualify for one of the few designated “affordable” units but not enough to pay a premium for the space they need. So they’re off in search of more-abundant housing elsewhere.”

“I get your point,” Polis said. “Despite your enthusiastic support for wage and price controls in your day, now you’re against them. But it seems like you’re putting the blame on me for complex situations. And, by the way, I also fought rent controls for mobile home lands.”

“I’m here to visit you. I acknowledge that you didn’t push price controls as severely as I did, that you had lots of help in imposing various price controls, and that your actions are a small part of broader problems. I also recognize that, with your money, you’ll never personally notice the harmful effects of price-control laws. But price controls are still a bad idea and certainly not in line with economic liberty, however much Nick Gillespie and your buddy Art Laffer may fawn over you.”

Nixon continued, “I have to run now. It turns out I did some other things I shouldn’t have done. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that I said some unpleasant things about black, Jewish, and gay people, so I’ll be working off my chains for quite a while I’m afraid. I have plenty of people to rattle.” Then he faded from sight.

Polis sat for a while to calm himself, then slipped into bed and went back to sleep.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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