Freedom…From The Cable Bill

By Eric Eggercord-cutting

One of my first adventures in “libertarian parenting” has been to evaluate the household budget and look for savings that could be used to pay for child care expenses. As a universal truth about babies: they ain’t cheap.

From diapers to car carriers to day care, the expenses pile up. As I looked over my monthly budget, one item has stuck out for some time now as not adding much value for the price paid.

It’s the cable bill.

The cable provider collects nearly $110 per month for content, equipment, and of course, taxes. And what do I get in return? I can watch a show from hundreds of programming choices – and record up to 4 others to watch later.

Sport events? I don’t really care – yet fees for channels like the battery of ESPNs has historically accounted for nearly 20 percent of cable bills. Meaning I’m paying the bill for others to get their fill of live event coverage and in-depth talking heads offering their opinions about why Player X is having, about to have, or had, a good, bad, or mediocre game/day/week/season/whatever.

I noticed my leisure time, spent with my wife and newborn, consist of watching movies or shows on Netflix. Despite all the programming content that the cable provider offers, I sadly live an analog reality of only being able to upload one show at a time into my visual cortex.

I also noticed cable usually provides a backdrop of familiar – and admittedly at times comforting – noise while other things are going on. We dutifully watched evening news programs while surfing the ‘Net or cleared out the DVR storage from time to time by watching current and past re-runs of Big Bang Theory, Pawn Stars, and Hell’s Kitchen.

But is that worth $1,320 per year? The answer for me was a decided, and firm, “No!”

So I joined the ranks of an elite and shadowy syndicate known as “The Cord Cutters.” (Not to be confused with The Stone Cutters.)

A Cord Cutter is someone who is comfortable with using the Internet as the primary, and sole, means of providing media entertainment. They—not quite literally—“cut” the cable cord to their home. The actual “cutting” going on refers more to the cable service (and monthly bill) rather than taking an actual pair of scissors or wire cutters (not recommended) to your home’s wiring diagrams.

The Mechanics…

All you need is a broadband Internet connection. Likely, you’ve already got one of those.

Next, you’ll need some content providers. I was already paying for two before I joined the Cord Cutters “guild.” So in reality, my starting point was my monthly cable bill, plus my existing content providers. At the moment, I’m using two: Netflix and Amazon Prime. But there are plenty of others. I might consider adding Hulu if I start missing my broadcast shows enough. And HBO Now gives me my Game of Thrones fix.

We’ll pretend that we didn’t have Netflix or Amazon though, since it’s easy to finance your new content acquisition from the cable bill savings.

Here is the fiscal tally:

Monthly Expenses:

Cable Cancellation (-$110/month)
Netflix ($7.99/month for the Basic plan)
Amazon Prime ($99/year; $8.25/month)

Cable Savings = $110.00/month

Expenses = $16.24/month

Let’s go as far as to add Hulu and HBO Now: $7.99/month, 14.99/month)

Monthly Expenses = $39.22

Monthly Net Savings = $70.78

Next, unless you want to attach a laptop to each of your TV screens, it’d be helpful to obtain some hardware. I went with Amazon FireTV. The voice enabled remote edition is $50. This is a one-time cost for each TV you want to include. No monthly equipment fees or taxes.

So if the average home has 3 TVs, budget $150 in equipment costs. This is a one-time, non-recurring expense, as long as the Amazon hardware doesn’t break.

One-time equipment costs: $150.00

By your third month you’ll be generating positive cash flow to your cord cutting project. ($150.00/$70.78)

And I’ll be saving about $850 per year that I can use to pay for day care and buy the odd season DVDs or movie that I might not be able to get from my cord cutting strategy.

Breaking the Shackles…of the Mind

Within a few days of cutting the cord, I noticed something that may be even more remarkable than booking the monthly savings from cancelling an un-necessary bill. My TV watching habits became deliberate choices instead of sharing similarity with a Pavlovian-trained hamster, racing away in my little wheel.

I wanted to watch House of Cards or Breaking Bad. So I watched an episode or two and then moved on to the next task on my daily agenda. I didn’t simply turn on the TV and “vege” out to the soothing background din of a couple hundred channels of content that I still can only watch one at a time. I actively chose how to fill my time.

Not only did cutting the cord free my wallet from the cable overlords, but it also freed my mind from feeling the need to mind meld with my TV on a daily basis. And what price can you put on that kind of freedom?

About the Author:

ERIC EGGER is an editor and founder of Freedom Forge Press.

PHOTO CREDIT:

Cord-cutting is reshaping the cable industry” by openmedia.org. Used with Creative Commons License

Writing Wednesday: Celebrating Writing

Power of WordsBy Val Muller

I was having a discussion with several soon-to-be-graduating high school seniors the other day. They were talking about how parents today are allowing the next generation to ruin themselves via technology. As an example, they cited a family who was eating at a very “happening” restaurant. Upon sitting at the table, the mother reached into her pocketbook and retrieved two tablets, which she promptly handed to each of her two children. The kids then automatically turned on a movie and a game and turned off their attention to their parents. What shocked my students about this display was that the parents didn’t even try to engage their children: technology was the preferred “babysitter.”

My students’ distress at this behavior gave me hope, and I was reminded again of eras in history in which sharing ideas allowed humanity to blossom and grow. As a writer and editor, I hope that the sharing of ideas never fades or pales to paltry video games or movies. I hope we always have the poets, the artists, the entrepreneurs who insist on creating something from nothing, who want to better humanity and leave their mark on the world.

As part of its mission, Freedom Forge Press is dedicated to preserving the written word as a medium for sharing ideas. We are currently open to submissions for novels.

At FFP, we hope to publish the best freedom-loving literature we can find. But we also like encouraging the written word as it applies to any theme. So we’d like to share some other writing opportunities we’ve compiled from around the web:

http://www.futurescapescontest.com/. Can you imagine the city of the future? Check out the website for this year’s contest. July 15 deadline.

http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topics Chicken Soup for the Soul has built quite the franchise. The editors are frequently on the lookout for new essays, and deadlines vary.

http://www.writersofthefuture.com/enter-writer-contest/ The Writers of the Future contest got me writing when I was in high school. It’s an ongoing opportunity to compete with the best amateur writers of speculative fiction. Quarterly deadlines and prizes.

http://www.newpages.com/writers-resources/young-authors-guide and http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2015/03/26/publication-opportunities-for-young-writers/. These blog posts offer a collection of international writing opportunities for young writers. As always, be sure to read the details of each one before you consider whether to submit.

http://fundsforwriters.com/ This site often appears in the top 100 websites for writers. There are several newsletter options, including a free one, for writers to receive updates on markets and agents looking for talent.

In the past, we at FFP have called for a renewed Age of Enlightenment, a renewed Age of Reason in which we demand the most of our minds to make the world a better place. With everyone surrounded by technology, it’s easy to be distracted and pacified by minutiae. It seems a constant battle to fight against the pull of the screen’s warm glow. But let’s “not go silent into that good night.” Let’s write and read and discuss and think.

The world will be better for it.

About the Author:

VAL MULLER is an FFP editor, fiction writer and teacher living in Virginia.  You can keep track of her at www.valmuller.com.

Binding the Civil Forfeiture Bully

School BullyThe Institute for Justice (IJ) is one of our favorite champions of freedom. Earlier this week the Internal Revenue Service handed IJ one of their fastest victories ever.

Within hours of IJ filing a lawsuit, the IRS returned nearly $70,000 in funds it had exploited in civil forfeiture proceedings from the Vocatura family, third-generation bakery owners in Norwich, Connecticut.

For those of you not in the know, civil forfeiture is a process by which government agencies can seize private assets merely on the suspicion of wrong-doing. The government can take, and keep, private property without ever bringing charges against whomever the property was taken from. For many property owners, there is no conviction required. No due process. No day in court due to the cost and judicial proceedings required to force the government to return the seized property. And agencies have behaved badly – using the funds for anything from travel, banquets, boats, equipment, political consultants, and in some cases, even illegal activity such as buying alcohol, marijuana, and prostitutes.

More information about civil forfeiture, or “policing for profit” as IJ calls it – including a video, here.

The IRS is not the only agency engaging in such behavior. Other agencies from local to federal law enforcement also use the practice.

Not only does civil forfeiture fly in the face of fairness for many Americans, but we believe it to be legally sanctioned criminal behavior. Think of the classic school bully who upends a kid in order to take his lunch money. That’s the essence of civil forfeiture, except instead of a maladjusted school yard bully, the individual faces the full weight and power of the government.

The US Constitution clearly and plainly states in the Fourth Amendment, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

“Shall not be violated” is about as plain as it gets, folks.

Yet the total value of private property taken from individual citizens is alarming: an estimated $4.5 billion at the federal level alone in 2014 according to an IJ analysis.

Let’s return to the Vocatura family and their conflict with the IRS school yard bully. The family made bank deposits from their bakery’s business – often in cash, and often in amounts less than $10,000, which would trigger currency transaction reporting (by law) at US banks. Yes, it appears that even in 2016, people buy baked goods with cash, just not more than $10,000 at a time.

So the IRS, the school yard bully, showed up at the business, with armed agents, and conducted a raid, seizing $68,000. The Vocaturas resisted the IRS seizure and sought the return of their property in court. The school yard bully responded by launching a criminal tax investigation – a battle which has caused 3 years of legal wrangling between the IRS and the Vocaturas, who frankly have a bakery to run and shouldn’t have to be spending their time trying to seek the return of their own property that was seized on suspicion of a crime they have never been charged with.

The IRS has filed no charges. Did not bring the case in front of a judge. They preferred instead to try to strong-arm the Vocaturas into a plea arrangement to voluntarily give up the funds, serve 3-4 years in prison, and forfeit an additional $160,000 in personal assets. Without the benefit of a trial. Without charges ever being filed. The school yard bully has quite an appetite for school lunch money.

We’re glad there are defenders of freedom like IJ out there to stand up to the school yard bullies at the IRS and other similarly-minded agencies.

But in our view, defense is not enough. How many stories like the Vocaturas are out there – just to a lesser extent? Government agencies from the local, to state, to federal level routinely have poor transparency, and no accountability procedures for the property seized. Civil forfeiture outstrips criminal forfeiture (where an actual crime is proven and a party found guilty) by an almost 7 to 1 ratio. For every  criminal forfeiture where a defendant has pled or been found guilty, there are another 7 civil forfeitures.

To protect our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution, which is why government exists in the first place, it’s time to go on the offense.

The IRS may have finally, begrudgingly returned the $68,000 it seized from the Vocaturas. Yet the criminal probe goes on. Surely the best and brightest agents at the IRS would be able to discover evidence enough for charges to be filed against local bakery operators after 3 years of investigation. (It took the government less time to investigate and convict Martha Stewart.)

Where do the Vocaturas go to get 3 years of their life back? How are they made whole after having their business violently raided by armed federal agents when they committed no violent offenses themselves? What recourse will they have for having to prepare and provide 8 years of records to the government to try to prove their innocence against charges that were never brought against them?

Stripping a citizen of their Fourth Amendment rights should become a criminal act both for agents and agencies alike. Holding officers of the government personally and criminally liable for wrongdoing is not without precedent and is a practice that may need to be expanded in order to protect our civil liberties.

The Privacy Act of 1974 establishes criminal penalties for employees or officers of agencies who knowingly and willfully disclose personally identifiable information. It is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a $5,000 fine. The agency can also face civil penalties in court, to include payment of attorney fees and representation costs.

This sounds about right to us.

IRS agents who engaged in willful seizure of property, failed to bring charges, failed to obtain warrants, and instead engaged in a 3-year protracted legal battle with private citizens, could be found guilty of misdemeanor offenses. Law should be established to compel the IRS in this case to pay civil penalties and legal fees as atonement for the civil terrorism it has inflicted on private citizens.

In such cases as these, we are reminded of a sentiment from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”

We can’t think of a more relevant modern example of government engaging in criminal behavior that is legally sanctioned than the kind of school yard bullying that the civil forfeiture process has become.

PHOTO CREDIT: “Bully” by Terry Freedman

Raising Freedom

We are excited to welcome our founder and editor’s newest addition to the Freedom Forge family. She arrived during the fabled Blizzard of 2016 (a.k.a. “Snowzilla” or Winter Storm Jonas for you non-East Coasters), which dumped some three feet of snow in the area. We’ll call her Baby Freedom, not only because it fits with our mission statement, but she’s shown an unnatural talent for breaking loose from her swaddle clothes to get her arms free: reminding us (and hopefully everyone else for that matter) that freedom is the natural state of man — and kidkind.

Baby FreedomBaby Freedom arrived to much fanfare. One day she’ll have stories to tell of an auspicious arrival during the height of a blizzard to fire trucks, firemen shoveling snow, ambulances getting stuck on snow-covered highway ramps, and an ER department full of stranded doctors and nurses.

But that is a different story for another time.

We’re particularly excited about the events of the last few weeks because it gives us an opportunity to share Adventures in Parenting from a (small “L”) libertarian perspective.

Parenting, it seems, has far more rules than it did when I was a kid (confirmed with parent input). Car seat laws until age 8? Sometimes longer? Mandatory vaccination schedules? A government agency threatening to take children away for letting them play in a park? Parents being arrested and charged with felony child neglect for letting their child play in the back yard? Instilling notions of communal property in kindergarten and elementary schools? Nobody loses sports teams? Does the government really care more about Baby Freedom than her own parents do? Or does it mostly care about compliance with its mandates – right or wrong – beneficial or harmful? And what about the status of America’s ill-fated social safety net programs? There’s not much confidence in registering for a Social Security program that is projected to be insolvent before Baby Freedom even attends high school.

Baby Freedom has a very uncertain future. Mounting deficits and government debt. Insolvent safety net programs, calls for spiraling taxes to ensure “fairness”, high regulatory burdens, and corporate taxation. These are only a few things the government is doing to threaten Baby Freedom’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of her own happiness. And with the amount of time and effort it takes to get government to acknowledge its mistakes and change course on the destructive things it is doing, the future is now.

The journey is just beginning, and we invite you to join us along the way as we bring you updates – and share your own perspectives on the subject by way of guest blog posts – in the Adventures of a Libertarian Parent.

(If you have an incident, story, pro tip, or other sage advice, we welcome your input. You can reach us at submissions (at) freedomforgepress (dot) com. Tag your subject with “AOALP: [your message subject].”

Jackpot Update: Down to 21 Minutes!

PowerballUpdate to yesterday’s Powerball Lottery post.

Unfortunately (or fortunately as it’s still a heck of a prize!), our Powerball winner will split the jackpot with two other lucky winners.

Meaning the cash option is reduced to approximately $310 million.

Deduct Federal Taxes (39.6%): $122.7 million

Deduct CA Income Taxes for the CA winner (12.3%): $38.1 million (Perhaps even more lucky for the other winners reported from Florida, no state income tax, and Tennessee, income taxes on dividends and interest only!) Sorry California, you should have picked a different state to win in. 😉

Net winnings: $149.1 million on a jackpot that was supposed to be headlined at $1.6 BILLION. Representing about 21 minutes worth of spending by the federal government.

The federal government of course, gets to tax all three winners – collecting a total of approximately $368 million.

Once again, the government won the lottery…particularly when you consider that an estimated 1 billion tickets were sold – at a price of at least $2 each, which lines the coffers of state government-run lottery commissions.

No wonder many states have passed laws prohibiting gambling. They don’t want competition.

Lottery Jackpot Represents 73 Minutes of Federal Spending

PowerballThe largest lottery jackpot in US history headlines as a princely sum of $1.5 billion.

But if you’re the lucky winner – overcoming the astronomical odds of 1 in 292 million – and managing to not split the pot with other lucky individuals who also managed to overcome the same astronomical odds….you’ll never see that much thanks to your long lost friends in the Internal Revenue Service and state departments of revenue.

That’s right, not only will you have to fight off droves of never before seen “cousins,” long lost friends, acquaintances, that guy who held the door open for you that one time when you went to buy a lottery ticket…you’ll have to fight off scores of government bureaucrats looking to feast on your winnings in exchange for all the value the government provides to you for the roads they haven’t been building or maintaining.

First, the cash option drops “Billion” from the figure – presently standing at $930 million.

The federal government stands to collect 39.6% in federal income taxes: $368.2 Million

Next, most Americans will face a state tax bite – which varies by state (0% in some states all the way up to a top rate of 12.3% in California. Really California?! No wonder people are packing up and leaving you…), but we’ll estimate state taxes at 5% : $46.5 million

Some will also face city or local income taxes – but we’ll disregard those for now.

Your net winnings will be approximately $515 million.

Federal spending in 2015 was $3.687 trillion (about $421 million per hour).

Meaning the amount of money you’d expect to see from winning the largest lottery jackpot recorded in US history will net you…..73 minutes worth of federal spending.

May the odds be ever in your favor…

Lottery Jackpot
Photo Credit:

“Money” by Pictures of Money

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,Gifts CC

We’ve been particularly good this year, so we’re hoping we can slip in a few last minute Christmas gift wishes.

  1. Freedom from politicians who want to take away our rights to own Red Ryder BB guns and their adult equivalents.
  2. A government that values private sector innovation over ineffective government regulation to solve problems.
  3. Solutions that create marketplace efficiency and actually advance healthcare delivery rather than bloated bureaucratic regulation and tax administration rules.
  4. Activists who recognize that all lives matter.
  5. Journalists who report facts instead of agendas.
  6. An end to politically motivated climate change hysteria. (Feel free to give lumps of coal to the hysterical alarmists – particularly academics and politicians who want to prosecute scientists who disagree with the climate change agenda.)
  7. Political parties who care about improving the lives of their constituents instead of increasing their own power and enriching their financial benefactors.
  8. A government budget that doesn’t enslave future generations to crippling tax and debt burdens.
  9. An executive branch that understands its role is to execute rather than pass laws.
  10. A judicial branch that understands its role is to interpret laws rather than pass them.
  11. A legislative branch that legislates. Sparingly.
  12. A government that understands alphabet soup is for eating instead of creating ineffective bureaucracies that rob people of their individual liberties.
  13. A rational banking and finance system that isn’t stuffed with funny monopoly money.
  14. Politicians who stop lying to people by pretending a slow down in increased rate of spending is somehow a “cut.”

Even though these might not all fit into our stocking or under a tree, we’d be glad to get any of these! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

Freedom Forge Press

PHOTO CREDIT:

“Ever Present” JD Hancock, at Flickr, via Creative Commons License 2.0

Epic E-Book Sale Through December 4th

FFP-ebook-sale-Dec-2015We are all about free markets. And the free market has created one crazy week of sales opportunities from Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, to Cyber Monday – all in one convenient week!

So instead of kicking off a BlackFriSmallBizCyberMon Sale (because honestly who wants to try to say that 3 times fast?), we’ll kick off an Epic E-Book sale.

Pick up a Kindle copy and get a few for your friends as well. E-books of all of our titles, excepting our first anthology, will be available for $1.99 on Amazon. Unfortunately, since we already offered the anthology on its anniversary date, Big Brother Amazon says we can’t offer it again. Too soon, they say!

[We don’t like rules much, so we found a way to include our first anthology in the sale anyway. It’s just our little way of sticking it to the man.]

Sale begins Friday, November 27th at midnight (PST) and runs through Friday, December 4th – also at midnight (PST).

Here is a convenient link to Amazon.com with a filter search for our books. 

We greatly appreciate your support for our press and our authors as it enables us to keep bringing you great fiction promoting freedom and the spirit of the individual!

Mathematical Proof: National Debt Blows Past Uranus

What does the US national debt have in common with Uranus?

According to daily reports released by US Treasury officials, the US national debt has now reached a staggering $18,492,091,120,833.99 (yes they even included the cents). Nearly 18.5 TRILLION dollars.

This is enough dollar bills laid end-to-end to cover the average distance between Earth and Uranus (maths below if you really want to know).

Uranus Debt

 

At the end of October, Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed they just can’t figure out how to cut the *astronomical* (see what we did there?) spending in the federal budget, leaving tough decisions about today’s fiscal problems for the next Congress and President to deal with.

Such feckless leadership leaves us all impoverished. More interest will be spent on the debt – funds that will buy no national defense, no FBI, not even for a road (because without government, who would build the roads? AMIRITE?). All those funds will go to financing money that has already been spent. This leaves current citizens who aren’t even old enough to vote yet with a huge stack of bills and IOUs. It’s unconscionable; it’s immoral; it’s wrong, in every imaginable sense of the word.

 

As promised, the maths:

Astronomical Unit = 149,597,871 kilometers
Average Distance from Earth to Uranus: 19.2 AU
Distance (in km) from Earth to Uranus: 2,872,279,123 kilometers

Length of One US Dollar Bill: 6.14 inches
Conversion US Dollar Bill to metric (come on, you saw The Martian, in space we translate to metric): 15.5956 centimeters
Conversion US Dollar Bill to metric (kilometers): 0.000155956

National Debt of the US Government: $18,492,091,120,833.99
National Debt of the US Government in $1 dollar bills: (just kidding…)
National Debt of the US Government in Dollar Bills (in kilometers): 2,883,952,562.84 kilometers

2,883,952,562.84 > 2,872,279,123

Conclusion: National Debt of the US Government > Distance from Earth to Uranus

Of Propane and Politics

What do propane and politics have in common? One smells bad, the other is used to heat hot water and provide heat for your home in winter.

Ha…Ha…Ha…

Very funny, we know! But they have something else in common as well. Both illustrate the beauty of competition. I received a marketing call from a well-known propane distributor (we’ll call them AmeriPropane) asking me if I needed to fill up my tank. And how timely! As the Starks of Winterfell say, “Winter is Coming!”

Propane Tank

Photo Credit: johnpoltrock via www.ilovemurphy.com

AmeriPropane’s business model (I assume) is to give away free gas tanks to commercial developers and home builders in exchange for licensing them to the eventual building occupant. Once licensed, the state government, in my case Virginia, protects the interest of AmeriPropane by outlawing the purchase of propane from any other distributor. Virginia considers filling a propane tank by anyone other than the owner to be a Class 3 misdemeanor.

And abracadabra! A tiny monopoly is formed for my individual propane market. I don’t own the propane tank buried beneath my yard, and I have to accept AmeriPropane as my sole-source provider of much needed heating fuel for the winter months.

As you can imagine, AmeriPropane has zero incentive at this point to provide any discount that might be confused with competitive pricing from other propane distributors.

To be sure, when I called to get a price for a refill, a very apologetic sales representative quoted me a price of $3.58 per gallon of fuel. Two competitors also servicing the area quoted prices of $2.29 and $2.19. (If it doesn’t sound like much, tank sizes average 500 to 1,000 gallons.)

AmeriPropane: $3.58 x 500 = $1,790
Competitor 1: $2.29 x 500 = $1,145
Competitor 2: $2.19 x 500 = $1,095

Propane is an differentiable commodity. Different competitors essentially provide the same C3H8 molecules. Assuming all companies are honest and provide the same propane (in this case they do), then using the lowest bid generates a savings of $695. At every fill-up. With as many as 2 fill ups during the winter depending on how low temperatures go and how vocal complaints from my wife are as to the thermostat setting.

Propane Molecule

Photo credit: Jynto via Wikimedia.org

AmeriPropane isn’t “wrong” or “criminal” or “exploitative” in charging the prices they do. Tanks cost money as does maintenance and installation. Politicians and progressives believe in free lunches. For the rest of us who live in the real world, the TANSTAAFL principle is an iron clad reality.

In this situation, the only way to win the pricing game was to alter the market and set myself up as the tank owner. I purchased my tank for $1,070, which the math above proves was easily paid for in less than 2 fill-ups.

Now I am the tank owner, and the monopoly for propane fill ups is no more. Free market competition – or at least an approximation of it with a market of about 5 local providers vying for business – is the new paradigm.

As an aside, Competitor 2 showed up, filled my tank and left me a swag bag filled with magnets, bag clips, and even a bag of chips to show appreciation for my business. None of which I ever received from AmeriPropane.

Since becoming the owner of the tank, I routinely call around for propane pricing – and am sure to ask my former tank owner for a price, “just to see” how much I’d be saving from my tank purchase. If they were a low bidder, of course they would get the fill up order. AmeriPropane is consistently 50 cents per gallon higher or more from the average price of the other companies.

Now back to where the story began – with the curious calls from my former tank owner. It seems they have started a marketing program to reach out to previous tank owners and offer competitive pricing on propane fill ups. Imagine that! Somehow they’ve reached the conclusion that selling propane at less of a profit is a better outcome than having propane sit in a storage tank at their distribution center.

I recently filled my tank this summer for $1.49. AmeriPropane had offered $1.99. (Yes even when I identified myself as the tank owner – no discount!) But this time, they wanted to offer me $1.45. They would have actually been the lowest bidder – if they had gotten to me a few weeks earlier.

Monopoly Board

Photo Credit: Rich Brooks via flickr.com

So if you’re still with me, you’re probably saying, “The point, man! Get to the point, man!” Talk of free markets, tormenting you with math, resurrecting dreaded economics terms, it’s all too much! The point is simple: free market competition generally produces a superior result than non-free market competition. AmeriPropane quickly learned and even adapted their behavior when stockpiles of gas went unsold at what many would consider ridiculously high prices.

And the more competitors the better. Consumer choice is a key ingredient in any healthy market. Bernie Sanders may not think being able to choose from 23 types of deodorant or 18 types of sneakers is a good thing, but the reality is that healthy competition keeps prices low and quality high, which enables consumers – particularly those with less disposable income who Bernie purports to “help” – to buy more of the things they need.

Suppose there were only 2 producers of deodorant. The inevitable result would be less competition. Higher prices, lower quality, and less responsiveness to consumer demand would quickly follow.

Which brings me to the final point of this post. If we accept that competition is good – that it forces competitors to stay responsive and ultimately produces a superior result than having a market with only one or two competitors, then what does that say about our two-party political system?

Photo Credit: KDSK via KDSK.com

Photo Credit: KSDK via KSDK.com

The current two-party system leaves many people with only one choice and potentially no voice given a particular set of views. Despite all the evidence to the contrary for the failure of government managed programs (e.g., bankrupt Social Security, rampant Medicare/Medicaid fraud, failing schools despite record per pupil investment, the US Post Office, Amtrak, healthcare.gov, Cash for Clunkers, Prohibition, War on Drugs, Immigration Reform, Farm Subsidies, Affordable Care Act, Ethanol, “Green” Jobs frauds, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, to name only a few…), if you like big government, then Democrats are generally your only choice. Conversely if you don’t like big government, then Republicans might seem like the only choice – except many of them lately behave like Democrats. This is a duopoly. And in duopolies, while things for consumers aren’t as bad as a monopoly, they aren’t much better.

Voter appetites for more choices are becoming crystal clear with the surges in popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – both of whom are bucking the “establishment” of their respective parties.

So when it comes to our political system, isn’t it time to rethink only having two competitors to choose from?