Sunday, April 03, 2011

Caveat Emptor: Florida Has Crooks

One of the biggest reasons I snarl in the general direction of any self-anointed Libertarian is that Libertarians have this huge desire to deregulate everything in their path.

It's all part of their disdain for bureaucracy, you see.  Especially government bureaucracy.  Regulation of a business or service means rules.  Rules to remember, rules to follow, agencies to oversight you, agencies you answer to.  Taxes to pay for agencies and oversight.  Fines to pay when the oversight finds something fishy.

Libertarians hate that.  All of that.  So their big idea of Small Government is that you CAN deregulate.  Leave the controls and the decision-making to the masters of industry and the makers of things.  They believe that "enlightened-self-interest" will drive the deregulated businesses to behave, lest the free market turn their business to other more honest providers of services and supplies.  The "Invisible Hand" of the Free Market will be all the regulation we will need.

There's a huge gaping problem with that.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST.  If people think no one is watching and they think can get away with it, they (at least a solid majority of "They") will doing something we could consider criminal.  And the longer they act like that, the more brazen in their behavior they will get.  The phrase "everybody does it" will become common and more of those working in that environment will fall sway to that idea.  A perfect example is Bernie Madoff: he did what he did for so long and with so many other supposedly enlightened people because most of his victims believed Madoff was openly gaming the system... and they wanted in on his trickery as a means of making easy money.

There is a reason regulations exist in the first place: TO PROTECT PEOPLE.  Ever read The Jungle?  Anyone clue you in that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?  What do you think happened in 1929 to 1933 that forced Congress to pass the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933?  And did anyone notice what happened when Glass-Steagall got shredded in 1999, considering the economic catastrophes that followed?

And yet, the Far Right has taken this Libertarian zeal for deregulation for all they can (because such deregulation helps make big businesses get even bigger and wealthier).  Especially here in Republican-controlled Florida (article link to Howard Troxler):
In 1995, the operator of a Pasco County dance studio was sentenced to prison after scamming more than $1 million from lonely, confused elderly customers.  When he got out... he simply went to a new dance studio...

Investigators found 30 customers who had been talked into signing 328 separate, deliberately confusing contracts worth $3.5 million... A studio operator defended all this by saying customers had voluntarily made "an adult decision."  As for any complaints, he said: "Maybe some of the students went on these trips and didn't get laid."  He got 30 years in prison.

Why am I dredging up this ancient history?  Because dance studios are one of 20 professions about to be deregulated entirely by the state Legislature.  Maybe they should be.  Maybe there will always be crooks, and victims to give them their money.  But the effects of House Bill 5005 will be felt by a lot of Floridians in daily life. Among other things, the bill repeals regulation of:
Auto mechanics.
In-state moving companies.
Charities, real or fake.
And a lot more...

...State law now makes it illegal for a charity to use "deception, false pretense, misrepresentation or false promise" to get a contribution. That will be repealed...

...This is, after all, about "creating jobs." If some of those new "jobs" in Florida involving bilking widows, running shady auto-repair shops or hijacking people's furniture — who cares?

Deregulation facing this state on an epic scale.

There is an aspect of human nature called GREED.  Every economic model - Mercantilism, Feudalism, Socialism, Communism and even Capitalism - has that problem of GREED.  The trick has been to clamp down on GREED as best as possible.

Florida is home to a truckload of elderly people.  Retirees, most of them flush (and not so flush) with retirement money and pensions.  One of our biggest problems in this state are the numbers of unlicensed businesses that try to scam or trick their way into getting people to pay for services they don't deliver or provide on the cheap and half-assed.

This effort of deregulation is going to make it a lot easier for these con artists to ply their "trade".  To trick residents into coughing up money for services never provided.  To trick them into signing up for things they don't need.  Even honest businesses may find it more tempting to squeeze more money out of services than usual.  Dishonest businesses are going to find it easier, and get worse.

This problem of GREED and its progeny SHODDINESS and RUIN, it's been going on for years, and it's been taking a lot of time and effort by the agencies we did have for consumer protection to keep up with the con artists and shady businesses.  But coming soon, without those regulations in place, those protection agencies might as well raise the white flag and go home.  The agencies won't have rules to enforce.  And the people won't have anyone protecting them or their homes.

Until the next hurricane blows in and all the homes get blown or washed out to sea.

Welcome to Florida.  Home of the Con Artist.  Keep both hands on your wallet and keys at all times.

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