All Commentary
Thursday, July 1, 1965

The Threat of Competition

 Mr. Yankus moved to Australia from Michi­gan in protest against government suppression of competition in agriculture.

In England, the direct sale of gasoline to passing motorists from mobile tank trucks is an estab­lished business practice. So, an Australian businessman decided to try it. The company’s first tank truck parked in an area alongside the road, advertising gasoline at a 5-pence discount per gallon. The lower price reflected his lower overhead costs, and motorists rec­ognized the bargain. One sale fol­lowed another in swift succession.

However, a nearby service sta­tion operator, upon learning of this new competition, jumped in his car and sped to the scene. First, he threatened to set the gasoline truck on fire. When this failed to scare his competitor, he threatened shooting, but the tank trucker stood his ground. Eventu­ally, two other service station operators arrived and the three of them parked their cars to block the access of passing motorists to the tank truck. Finally, the police arrived, and the service sta­tion operators were told to vacate the premises.

If all the service station opera­tors had been allowed to vote to pass a law prohibiting the sale of gasoline from tank trucks to re­tail customers, that law would surely have been passed. When­ever someone has an advantage over us in our means of making a living, there is a particularly strong temptation to squash that competitor’s advantage by force. Thousands of socialistic laws orig­inate in this manner.

Here is a typical example of so­cialistic laws already in effect.

Doctors who migrate to Australia are prohibited from practicing their profession unless they re­peat their studies in Australian medical schools. In one glaring in­stance, a migrant doctor wrote a textbook which is in current use in Australian medical schools. Yet he was prevented from earning a living as a doctor by restrictive law. The evidence is clear. Local doctors aren’t worried about the competence of migrant doctors; they do not want the competition. They personally find it distasteful to their conscience to threaten competitors with fire, shooting, or other forms of violence. So a law is passed empowering the police to fine, jail, or shoot the competitors who disobey.

Few individuals would person­ally attempt to stick a pin in another person, or give him a kick or a punch. It is clear that such violence has a way of quickly turn­ing upon its instigator. It is not so easy to see that passing laws to suppress competitors would have the same effect. Suppose you had the police power to impose re­strictions on another person. And for every restriction you imposed on him, he was empowered to im­pose a restriction on you. In such a simple situation, it’s easy to see that the harm done to others by restricting their creative ac­tions will return to those who in­flict it. There would be as little appeal in imposing restrictions un­der such conditions as there would be in cutting off another man’s finger, knowing that your own finger would be cut off the follow­ing day. Yet the list of laws sup­pressing competition is long in­deed, simply because few individ­uals believe there will be a re­taliation. The retaliation is often devious and not readily seen or understood. But, it is always there, and eventually will manifest itself one way or another.



A Postscript from Stanley Yankus

“Our local government officials hired a dog catcher. One of the first dogs to be caught was the Mayor’s kelpie. The Mayor and other dog owners complained that the dog catcher was ‘too efficient.’ He who passes laws for others seldom realizes that the others include his wife, his children, and the friends he cherishes most of all.”