Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Johnny Really Can't Drive

An interesting article caught my eye yesterday in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution.  It talked about new proposed legislation (that will never pass) dealing with restrictions for teenage drivers.  It basically increased the Learners Permit to age 16 for all states (right now it's state by state. This federal law would punish states for not adhering to the federal rules (by not giving them DOT money.)) It would also create new restrictions for drivers under 18, make it illegal to talk on cell phones and text while driving....etc.... The idea of safety is okay, although it should be common sense for all people to take safety precautions on the road.  I mean, it's either drive safely or die in an accident.  Of course, the Libertarian paradox applies here, in that there shouldn't be laws like this, but since most people don't use common sense (teenagers, drunk drivers, most everyone else), there has to be these laws passed.

But I got to thinking about some of the other reasons why new restrictions should be placed on younger drivers.  What economic benefits would come out of keeping young people from driving, and for whom?

The free market system works in a peculiar fashion.  It markets its goods, the video games and the latest in fashion apparel, to the younger generation.  The mall is filled with clothing and doodads that every teenager would love to own, to relish in flashiness and superficial popularity through materialism (this comes from one who would just as soon wear velcro shoes).  But times are changing now. Not everyone has money.  And fewer people are getting credit cards because the banks just can't give credit to every college grad and young whippersnapper that comes along.  And so sales go down, business go under, and unemployment rises.  So how do you go about fixing the problem, or at least, and this is important, the perception of the problem. 

Lets say that the unemployment number for Georgia is 10%.  (Now, that really is probably low, because that number is already tampered with.) And so people are out looking for jobs.  People that have college degrees would just as well find a job at the local grocery store as the place where they actually have degrees (because they're not hiring, probably).  So we have people who are experienced and educated competing with those who are still in high school for jobs.  And those in high school are looking for jobs, too.  So we naturally have to get rid of some of the people so that one group (the ones who are older, probably more mature, and more likely to pay their bills and support political candidates since they are happy to have at least some job) can actually find employment.  At this point, the employment rate goes down, because the high schoolers cannot find jobs, and the ones with education now have them.  You do this by making it so that high schoolers can't drive without many more restrictions.  It becomes harder for them to have transportation to and from work.  Thus, since they can't get a job, they can't spend money (which they don't have) and they can't vote at all, so it won't matter to those in Washington. 

But of course, this idea doesn't fly without a hitch.  Yes, I know that they will make exceptions for teenagers driving to and from work and school.  But since I'm looking at theories here, I'm overlooking that.  Also, there are the advertisers who are still marketing wares to those in high school, and without money.  They really have very few options to get what they need.  They can get money from their parents (who are probably struggling for cash, as well), or they could mow lawns, or some other menial job.  They could also, of course, make money by selling drugs, stolen prescription drugs, or by stealing those things that they want from the stores and either selling them or keeping them.  They have the time, since they have no jobs, and they have the ability to sell things via the internet to whomever might want them.  So without transportation for those in high school, the job market is affected (which is what they wanted) and the crime rate increases (which is what they don't want.) 

So yes, keeping teenagers from driving does help decrease the mortality rates for automobile accidents, so the congresspeople can all get around with the parents of fatal crash victims, and sign their laws, but it has unfortunate and very much intended consequences.  In the end, and this is a blanketed statement, but it works for me, that Johnny can't drive because Johnny can't vote.

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