Mini Buses and the Case for (Regulated) Capitalism

Milton Freidman famously remarked, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Saharan Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand”. I always loved that quote. I think it captures something fundamental about the way I perceive the role of government vs. private enterprise.

If you’ll allow me some latitude, I’d like to use my recent episodes surviving the network of minibuses and trains to share some recent ruminations regarding that role.

In the economic microcosm represented by mass transport in Cape Town, the mini buses most closely resembles unbridled capitalism. A private enterprise controlling the means of production (in this case represented by criminal gangs from the townships owning derelict buses) with the slight exception that the price mechanism is controlled not directly by the market but by the oligarchy of gangs who have set the price at ZAR6. The Golden Arrow bus line represents  market socialism as the means of production are owned publicly for a profit (although doubtful in the case of the Golden Arrow).

In this (imprecise) example the market is best served by capitalism via the mini buses. My conclusion being reached on a uneducated guess at the number of routes, efficiency, and cost. As I attempt to round home on this entry, how are mini buses a case for regulated capitalism as I’ve suggested in my title. First, lets’s glance at what regulation is or may be in place currently. I’m almost certain that each of the mini buses are licensed in some capacity and each of the taxis has passed a road worthy test at least once. Other than those basic regulations I would gander the only other guidelines/rules are those of traffic laws (that nobody is seemingly following here). I would propose with only those paltry regulations in place the mini buses have failed to meet a basic threshold of safety for their passengers. I would therefore state that the public would be best served with a regulatory environment that ensures the safety of the mini bus passengers.



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