They say that our society is elitist. Price controls inflict positive harm on precisely the people we wish to help, and for what? So that people removed from the situation can feel good about themselves? Excusing others’ suffering in the name of your ideals is neither virtuous nor compassionate. The Foundation for Economic Education’s Sheldon Richman once said that advocating policies when you don’t understand their unintended consequences is “the intellectual equivalent of drunk driving.” If you’re advocating price controls and don’t understand what the laws of supply and demand have to say about your proposal, you aren’t courageous or compassionate. You’re dangerous.
They say that our society is violent. Trade is a fundamentally peaceful undertaking that unites people who might even dislike one another. Government intervention is literally the imposition of someone willing to use force to prevent people from cooperating. Michael Munger explains more about “euvoluntary exchange” in a recent EconTalk podcast.They say that our society is superficial. The economist Wilson Mixon characterizes this as the attitude that it is “better to feel good than to do good.” To give at the office is one thing. To “give” at the voting booth is another, especially when your “giving” is actually hurting the people you think you’re helping.
People who advocate price controls and other interventions often do so because they want to send a message about the kind of society we live in. In light of how price controls create shortages, though, I don’t think the messages are the ones people want to send. Or receive.