Should We Ban All Motels?

Mark Steckbeck, professor at Hillsdale College, writes:

The virtue of a free market economy is that it serves disparate tastes and talents—wants and skills. Hotels and motels, for example, differ in their locations, amenities offered, cleanliness, etc. In fact, some are utter fleabags many of us might deem unseemly. But they serve the wants of others, especially those with few or no other housing alternatives such as migrant workers and the near homeless. These customers obviously find inexpensive motels their best alternative, notwithstanding my objections.

If a minimum quality standard was legislated on motels (let’s say in the name of justice to protect the poor), forcing them to provide middle class quality and ammenities, are the customers of inexpensive motels made better off? If we force owners of motels to provide a certain level of service and quality—say a “living” quality—that forces some hotels raise their rates or to shut down, are their customers made better off? Is anyone made better off by eliminating the best market alternative currently available to them? If hoteliers refuse to treat their customers to the standards compatible with my interests I don’t want them around any way. That makes the poor better off, right?

If you say no, how is this any different than someone saying this about Wal-Mart:

Look, no one should have to work in a Wal-Mart; I just plain don’t care if the state loses the jobs that the chain might ‘create’. What’s the point of having those jobs when they don’t pay a living wage and don’t provide any sort of healthcare? Not to mention the way they destroy the workers’ souls.

Steckbeck concludes with:

Although I’m sure the author didn’t intend it, his argument is a callous disregard for the poor and the unskilled. The effect is to say, “Let’s remove the only employment alternative available to many Wal-Mart workers, and for many the bottom rung needed to acquire experience and skills necessary to obtain higher paying jobs. Yeah, let’s just get rid of those.”

You may not like the job or the compensation package, but like the example of inexpensive motels, remove their best alternative and they are made worse off. Be grateful that you have the skills and opportunities that allow you to earn a decent compensation package, but don’t destroy someone else’s best alternaitve because it isn’t compatible with your idea of fairness. How noble and righteous is it to make the people who lack the skills and opportunities currently available to you worse off?

The full article can be found here.

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