Posted by: erichosemann | November 4, 2009

A Hardy Weed

A link from Marginal Revolution yields this tasty dateline:

OTTAWA — An unemployed Gatineau man has been doing a modest but steady business in the past week by standing in line at flu clinics for people who can’t line up themselves.

I cribbed the title of this post from David Henderson’s Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom.

David’s tenth pillar is “Competition is a hardy weed, not a delicate flower.”   I’m using the hardy weed analogy in a slightly different way.  Perhaps the Canadian gentleman is competing with someone.  Maybe there are others out there doing just what he is doing, charging $14 per hour in line, maybe not.  He’s certainly making it easier for people with scarce time to compete for a chance at a flu shot.  He’s freeing up resources that cost more than $15 an hour to use.  Those that pay him to wait in line can use that time to do things they value more than $15 an hour, such as caring for their children or elderly relatives.

The strands of action this man creates by selling his time snake through the scarcity and inequality of life, much like those pesky, hardy weeds weave through the grass in your yard.  Political bread and butter is made by trying to sever these strands.  Regulators and busy-body politicians ignore the compounded scarcities of standing in line.  They despair at the overwhelming demand for vaccines, thinking the only solutions are to do like Boxer in Animal Farm–work harder and produce more–or punish people for deviating from their approved rationing procedure.

But human nature is a hardy weed, too.  It is a first rate seeker of scarcity and inequality.  Those who trust in human nature’s best aspects know they can smooth over the roughness of scarcity and inequality.   By freely exchanging his time for money, the man known as Johnny Z became an agent of the invisible hand, and let the price of his time allocate resources to those who need them.

In so doing, he created opportunity where there was previously nothing.  He filled a gap, found his niche.  Those that paid him to wait could have taken their place in line, and forfeited their time and care for their families.   Instead, they got vaccines and the chance to use their time more productively.



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