April 15, 2005

Triumph of the free market!

As everyone knows, government regulation always and inevitably leads to inefficiency and waste, higher costs to the consumer for lower quality goods and servers.

Oh wait.

Before deregulation, airlines competed mostly on the freshness of their cocktail nuts because the Civil Aeronautics Board dictated their routes and ticket prices. This seemed a little strange, so economists and policy wonks proposed 'marketizing' air travel -- that is, allowing airlines to compete head-on. They thought this would give consumers lower prices, more direct flights, more airlines to choose from, and simpler ticketing and flying requirements. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But contrary to predictions, deregulation has actually led to fewer direct flights, fewer airlines, less predictable prices, costly restrictions -- and, not incidentally, the financial ruin of nearly every major carrier. Analysts estimate that the airlines have collectively lost more than $50 billion since deregulation began. True, consumers have gotten lower prices on some flights, but only at the cost of astronomical prices on others and a rash of new restrictions and conditions.

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