Mar 082018

Pouring Steel

No good deed goes unpunished, especially if that good deed results in a win-win situation. That’s the lesson being enforced by the City of London’s crackdown on one driver who offered inexpensive rides to cancer patients.

It all began when a story broke that the city had carried out a ‘sting’ operation and fined a volunteer driver for offering a personalized two-way transportation service to these patients – because she charged a nominal fee ($12) to cover her own expenses.

Though strongly supportive of the driver, the community’s collective outrage unfortunately became misdirected against bylaw enforcement officers who were merely acting in accordance with bylaws established by an elected municipal council. That rage should have been directed at the city’s controlled and regulated taxi industry, which is the source of the trade prohibition being forced upon each side – both the driver and the driver’s passengers.

Called a ‘good Samaritan’ by many, the anonymous driver (referred to as ‘Nancy’ in some media coverage) was praised for her selfless service to others. It was widely expressed that without people like ‘Nancy’ available for those in need, the needy would have no other affordable transportation options. The outpouring of support from Londoners was expressed through open-line calls, letters to the editor, complaints to city hall, and thousands of dollars raised through public funding drives.

But London’s ‘good Samaritan’ suddenly became the ‘bad Samaritan’ when it was discovered that ‘Nancy’ had been offering similar rides to others who were not cancer patients. Moreover, it was also learned that she had received previous warnings from by-law officers, and that given the number of rides she was delivering, a personal financial gain on her part might result.

As quickly as it appeared, the outpouring of support for the driver vanished; even refunds were offered to those who had financially contributed to her cause.

Why? What happened to all of the concern for cancer patients and others in similar circumstances? After all, with regard to their needs and to the fact that people like ‘Nancy’ could meet those needs in an affordable way, nothing has changed. Why is there now no uprising against a clearly unjust transportation monopoly?

The real lesson to be learned here is that for ‘Nancy’ to have been worthy of the praise of her supporters and to operate legally, it was necessary that her motives be altruistic. What was being praised was not that she was helping cancer patients (which remains an established fact) – but her altruism.

Unlike any free trade ‘win-win’ scenario, altruism demands a ‘win-lose’ scenario. And when governments prohibit trade, the result is a ‘lose-lose’ scenario: in this case, no more affordable service; no more happy passengers.

The crony protectionism behind London’s taxi industry is not unlike that practiced by state, provincial, and national governments around the world in other areas of trade.

As a free trade microcosm reflecting the much larger international free trade picture, one can understand why U.S. President Donald Trump no longer wants America to be the loser in trade deals that demand altruism on America’s part.

In the midst of the current NAFTA re-negotiations, let us remind ourselves that any trade deal that is truly free – from government coercion – will be a win-win deal that’s Just Right for everyone.

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