Thursday, January 31, 2008

And they're from the government and here to help you.

Mary Jo Pletz was facing some difficult times. Her infant daughter had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She needed to stay home and care for the child and there were so many doctor’s appointments. Yet the family needed the income she could earn from working to pay for all of this. Pletz thought outside the box and came up with a solution.

She began selling items on eBay. She also discovered that there are lots of people who have items they want to sell but who, for various reasons, aren’t anxious to go on-line themselves and those people were happy to let her sell their items on their behalf and keep some of the profit. Pletz did very well it and had sold well over 10,000 items. Her customers were happy too. With around 11,000 ratings left Pletz her approval rating was 99.9 percent positive. Out of the thousands of customers she had only 14 were unhappy.

What a great testimony to the workings of a free market. She was filling a need. She benefited from doing so. The clients who had her sell their goods were happy. The eBay customers who purchased the good were happy. This is win-win-win all around. So who was unhappy? The state of Pennsylvania of course.

Pletz discovered that the government was unhappy when she answered her door one day to find some suited thug operating a state protection racket. He made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. He informed her that the Godfathers down in Harrisburg had heard about her little venture. They weren’t happy.

It seems Pletz had gone into business without kissing their ring first and offering them a sufficient bribe in order to leave her alone. She was told that she could be fined for selling on eBay because she didn’t have an auctioneer’s license. And the fine could be $1,000 for every item she sold. Quick math told the woman that she could be held up for $10 million. One shouldn’t upset the Family.

She closed up shop and took a part-time job as a dental assistant. She also had to hire an attorney to try and protect her from the workings of the Mob. But she also fears that if convicted she can be forbidden from working as a dental assistant -- that too is a licensed profession. And while she has a license it can be stripped from people who are convicted of a crime, even if its a candy-ass, ridiculous crime invented by morons who ought to be dangling from the nearest lightpost ala Mussolini.

Of course the reason the Mob in Harrisburg wants the licensing is “to protect the consumer”. Never mind her 99.9 approval rating in customer service. Notice that protecting consumers never is mentioned when it comes to government agencies like state schools, the DMV or any other department. Surely on-line sellers can’t even do 1% of the damage done to decent people by government officials.

And this is a perfect case to prove the point. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer they are 400 retail drop-off stores in Pennsylvania for internet sales. And 14,000 residents of the state earn most their income from internet auctions. But Pletz is the one they picked to make an example in order to scare the others in paying protection money.

Barry Fallon, 61, had a similar experience to that of Pletz. He had an ISold It franchise store. He was doing well and providing a service customers were willing to pay for -- willing enough that he was also providing jobs to three employees. The state went after him and basically shut him down.

Of course the Mob has protection rackets that favor certain groups. And in this case the group protected were the old fashioned kind of auctioneers. One of them told Fallon that he’d front for him for a fee of $1 per item sold. Then his buddies in the Mob would leave Fallon alone. Fallon explained: “It’s like the buggy-whip manufacturers deciding whether these newfangled automobile manufacturers can do it without a buggy-whip license.”

State Rep. Michael Sturla (D) is the chairman of the House Professional Licensure Committee. He says he wishes the state “will walk away from that one [Pletz] and prosecute somebody else.” Apparently the public is too sympathetic to Pletz, she doesn’t look like the rapacious capitalist that the regulators like to concoct for PR purposes. Sturla isn’t quite willing to let go of controlling every aspect of human existence though he is willing to ease up a bit -- especially when it generates negative publicity like this case. He wants to create an electronic auctioneer’s license and require each recipient to be bonded for $5,000 to “protect consumers”. Apparently this politician thinks that restricting competition is good for consumers. He hasn’t taken Econ 101 apparently.

Sen. Rob Wonderling (R) has introduced legislation to exempt eBay sellers from the licensing requirement entirely. Of course he’s not proposing getting the Mob out of the protection racket. He just prefers they not expand it into this new realm.

On it’s behalf the State claims that they are “complaint driven” implying that someone actually complained that Pletz did something wrong. Of course, they won’t reveal who complained or about what. So you just have to take their word for it.

To quote Ronald Reagan: government isn’t the solution. It’s the problem.