The Significance of a Minute

A minute may seem insignificant; it is but 1/1440 of a day or 1/525,600 of a year. But in politics and public policy, one insignificant minute can mean an enormous difference. This was the case when the hands of millions of clocks and watches in Sweden took the insignificant step from May 31, 11:59 p.m. to June 1, 12:00 a.m. Nine million people went to bed in one world, and woke up in another.

June 1 was the first day of a number of new political programs and public policies; another 'black' day for those of us advocating freedom and liberty. The guns of government reached even further into the ever decreasing sphere of voluntary agreements and spontaneous order. And, of course, into the taxpayers' wallets.

On this 'Black Wednesday,' a privately owned and managed nuclear reactor was forcefully shut down, file-sharing of copyrighted media was prohibited, extra taxes were added to recordable media such as CDR/CDRW and cassettes, and the owners of restaurants and other 'public areas' were stripped from formulating their own policies regarding smoking. All of these measures are results of extensive lobbying from special interests aiming to use the powers of the State instead of finding a market solution.

The nuclear power plant was shut down as the result of environmentalists propagating that it is unsafe and harmful for the environment. They may, of course, be right, but when considering the real effects, one might wonder what the hell they were thinking. The nuclear reactors will be replaced to the greater part by a number of coal-burning plants. Where are the environmental benefits of increasing pollution? It is hard to understand why the environmentalist movement never considered demanding an end to state subsidies to certain power-generating technologies instead. This would be likely to have caused a market incentive to develop cheaper and cleaner ways of generating electric power. And it would never have cost the taxpayers the over one billion euros in damages the state is about to pay the former owners of the power plants.

The music and movie producing corporations were more fortunate than the electric power producers. They finally managed to bring about a law prohibiting all file-sharing and downloading of copyrighted media. One might argue that copyright is important, but why do they need to use the guns of government to find a solution? These giant corporations could easily have stopped the 'threat' of file-sharing through voluntary market measures. The industry benefits from a global monopoly of the productions of its artists; it should be possible for them to do something. It is a mystery why they never considered attaching every purchase of a CD with a contract stating that the buyer is obligated never to lend, copy or resell its artistic content. This would have made it easy to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice'without ever relying on state bureaucracy. As always with market solutions, it would have been easier, cheaper and far less dangerous than unleashing the powers of the State.

The extra tax added to all recordable media, which was enforced at the same time as the prohibition of file-sharing, may be one of the reasons for this choice of conduct. This tax is supposed to compensate for losses resulting from file-sharing. Jackpot! The guns of government prohibiting copyright-violating copying at taxpayers' expense and guaranteeing extra income through taxation. More money in and less money out'guaranteed by the State. The perfect solution for any corporation not interested in market or morality.

Add to that the new violation of property rights aimed at restaurant and pub owners. The anti-smoking lobby joined forces with the paternalistic public health groups pressuring politicians in order to achieve a law prohibiting smoking in restaurants. It obviously restricts the property rights of their owners, who no longer can offer customers the special atmosphere they might prefer. But what is private property to forcefully sustaining public health? I for one would prefer someone smoking calmly at the table to a horde of smokers rushing in and out to have a cigarette once in a while. The market solution would be to let the owners decide what to offer and leave it to the customers to choose what restaurant to endorse. Instead, government will extend its control organization in order to maintain the observance of the law.

The nine million people sleeping comfortably during the 'insignificant' minute when May 31 turned into June 1 should have had nightmares. The world they fell asleep in was very different from the world they in which they awoke. One insignificant minute and their freedom was again circumscribed, their tax burden was increased, and the guns of government gained additional influence.

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.