Friday, April 12, 2013

There is no Arizona.

It's a searing July afternoon on a stretch of New Mexican Route 66, dry and brittle as the birds' bones that litter the fuming sands. Andy lies sprawled in the back seat, flatulent and green, prone, victim of an unkind dalliance with a questionable mayonnaise jar full of sloppy joe mix. The one working window is down, and it helps to purge the rancid butter miasma wafting over the Buick's bench seats, but my eyes still sting, my foot still just a little too heavy, my ears lanced through by Winona's endless, chirping delivery of what is surely the World's Worst Shaggy Dog story. I can feel my sanity sneaking to the fridge for a snack that isn't there. I don't even notice that the engine temperature gauge is buried behind the faux wood paneling, pegged right. In fact, I only scarcely take note of the final death screech of the crankshaft as the journal bearing seizes and the splendid 425-CID V8 huffing under the hood selects the "initiate inferno" option from its limited menu.

It's hard to find parts for a '65 Buick this far from Albuquerque. It's hard to find parts for a '65 Buick anywhere. But my situation is desperate. My traveling companion in the back is making every possible effort to adopt a hue not unlike that of the many iguanas we see molesting the prickly pears just off the shoulder and my traveling companion in the front seems content gnawing the enamel from her own teeth. We are ensorcelled in this barbecue pit, victims of an indifferent sun, mischievous botulism, and the fickle tickle of progress as delivered by the invisible hand of euvoluntary exchange.

Industries come and go. But it can be hard to witness the death throes of a beloved firm, to hear the rattle as a business breathes its last. The sunk cost fallacy, though fallacious, exists and holds sway in men's minds. Is it wise to pickle the desiccated remains of an industry whose customers have flown? How do subsidies for dying industries compare to subsidies for infant industries? Does the economic analysis track well with the moral intuition? Look at the metaphor: infant industries, dying firms. These are biological lifecycle terms. There's natural pity for small children and the elderly, but does that map, should that map to businesses?

Subsidizing antiquated car parts is great for me when I'm zooming across the desert in a car that should have been junked decades ago, but it diverts resources from higher-valued use and it encourages me to continue driving a lumbering, petrol-gormandizing land hulk long past the fade of the market signals. The same goes for SEC barriers to firm liquidation backed by, among other pieces of legislation, the Williams Act. The harder it is to wind down rusty rattletrap firms, the more shambling zombie corporations will dot the land.

Is it euvoluntary to truck, barter, or exchange with the walking dead? Probably on individual terms. Less so when you enter a voting booth. State regulation means rent-seeking just as surely as spoiled sloppy joe mix means food poisoning.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?