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A Grandchild’s view from The Backseat of Two Old Folks’ Car


Marshall Hill and his wife Tami and their granddaughter Tinley had a wonderful vacation to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. They made this beautiful music video to remember it by:

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Libertarian support for federal regulation of dog walkers?


Regulation of providers of local services–barbers, real estate brokers, taxi cabs, etc.–is traditionally a function of state and local governments. Not discerning any great effect on interstate commerce (i. e., no significant campaign contributions), the United States Congress has stayed out of this field.

Many economists and politicians, especially those with a libertarian bent, wonder why a manicurist or a hair braider, needs a license.  Restrictions on entry into an occupation protect the license holders from competition and allow them to raise their prices.

I have read that at the peak 17% of the United States labor force was in trade unions. Now, about the same percentage has occupational or professional licenses, while trade unions have lost their clout and amount to 3% of the labor force. My guess is that those who hold occupational licenses are more likely to vote Republican, while trade union members once gave great power to the Democratic Party.

Tyler Cowen, an affable academic economist with a libertarian outlook, advances the argument in a recent Bloomberg column, that federal regulation of these occupations would be a better alternative than allowing state and local regulation to continue:

My radical proposal is therefore for the federal government to preempt as much occupational licensing as is possible. That’s right, these functions would be taken away from the state and local governments.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect the federal bureaucracy to usher in the reign of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School economics. But the federal regulatory process would likely pay less heed to local special interests, and it would produce a more homogenized and less idiosyncratic body of regulatory law more geared toward the most important cases, such as medicine and child care. The federal government is less likely than many state and local governments to obsess over licensing rules for fortune tellers, florists and athletic trainers.

Though the Commerce Clause was stretched pretty far by the Warren Court in the 1960s, I doubt that the current Supreme Court would allow Congress to regulate dog walkers and hair braiders.
Cowen’s rationale is that federal power may be justified to keep state and local governments from infringing on economic freedoms:
Keep in mind that the alternative to my suggestion is not the status quo but rather a regime where occupational licensing becomes progressively worse at multiple levels of government. The defense of liberty requires changes, and sometimes that means recognizing that small, local governments are infringing upon our rights rather than protecting them.

Tesla slips the noose of regulatory capture in Missouri


A regulated industry sometimes is able to use a regulatory agency to restrict competition. In Missouri, licenses for dealers of new cars have been issued only to applicants which hold franchises granted by manufacturers, with the franchisees each maintaining a place of business within the state. The value of a dealership is strengthened if a manufacturer cannot open a competing dealership.

Under Tesla’s business model, purchasers buy directly from the manufacturer, not from a separate dealership. Tesla granted itself a franchise and was thus both franchisee and franchisor, sparing customers the cost of supporting a separate dealership.

The Missouri Automobile Dealers Association (MADA) sued the Missouri Department of Revenue and Tesla Motors, claiming that issuing the license to Tesla created “a non-level playing field.” The Cole County Circuit Court determined that MADA had a right to challenge the issuance of the license to Tesla and agreed with MADA that the issuance of the license to Tesla was unlawful.

The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the Circuit Court, holding that MADA (as well as another car dealer and a motor vehicle manufacturer) had no right to challenge the issuance of the license to Tesla, lacking standing. The appellate court examined the motor vehicle licensing statutes and found that the statutes permitted an applicant to challenge the refusal of the Department of Revenue to issue a license, but said nothing about the right of a dealer to challenge the issuance of a license to a potential competitor. Moreover, a court could not order the Department of Revenue to revoke the license, because the Department’s power to do so depended upon the existence of specified acts or events that were deemed by the Department’s director to be a “clear and present danger to the public welfare.” The director had not made such a discretionary finding.

The appellate court characterized the MADA challenge as that of “competitors seeking to avoid competition and not as vindicators of the a larger public interest.” Thus Missouri follows several other states that have allowed Tesla’s business model to disrupt old ways of doing business.

Uber and Lyft, Airbnb and HomeAway, and Zillow are similarly changing the economy, taking advantage of internet and smartphone technology to be responsive to consumer preferences. Lobbyists will have plenty to do.

Book Review: James Fork of the White River, Transformation of an Ozark River

Book Review:  James Fork of the White River, Transformation of an Ozark River

Published by Lens & Pen Press, 4067 Franklin, Springfield MO 65807, $35 (buy both James Fork of the White River and Damming the Osage for $52.50 postpaid), 351 pages.

The evolution of a river in the modern era has many dimensions—geology, politics, cultures, the rise and fall of towns, commerce—and Crystal and Leland Payton have once again used various techniques to capture the modern history of the James River in Southwest Missouri. These techniques involve reproduction of old photographs, maps, and promotional brochures, and lavish new photographs. Combining these graphics with a penetrating verbal narrative, the Paytons have given us what we all want and need to know about the White River’s largest Missouri tributary.

The James originates on the dome of the Springfield Plateau, east of Springfield, near Mansfield. Other streams radiate from this high elevation—the Niangua and the Osage Fork of the Gasconade flowing northward, Bryant Creek and the North Fork of the White flowing southeastward, Swan and Bull creeks flowing south, and the James, initially flowing westward before taking a southward turn at Springfield to eventually reach the White River a few miles above Kimberling City.

Drawing on the pioneering archaeological work of Carl and Eleanor Chapman, whose courses and books about Missouri anthropology and archaeology shaped a couple of generations of students including me, the Paytons summarize what is known about occupants of the valley over the past 12,000 years until the first Anglo-Americans began visiting, then settling, in the past three centuries.

The text, supported by photographs, depicts the valley of the James and its tributaries east of Springfield as an agricultural area, once dominated by general farming, changing to cattle ranching. The authors point out that the substantial Amish communities have continued to raise a variety of crops and livestock, along the tributaries such as Panther Creek and the upper Finley.

Proceeding westward, the James and especially its tributaries that drain Springfield (Pearson, Jordan, Fassnight and Wilson creeks), are urban streams, carrying loads of contaminants. Jordan Creek runs through the heart of downtown Springfield, much of it in underground culverts; the Paytons do a great job of explaining the history and politics of burying Jordan Creek and the progress toward its exhumation and restoration. A interesting tidbit appears in a sidebar, connecting the Jordanaires vocal group that backed Elvis to this stream, a small point that typifies the richness of this book.

In addition, the role of John Woodruff, a Springfield business mogul in the years before World War II, in the development of Springfield and his pursuit of the Arcadian style of tourism is also connected to the James River. In their various books, the Paytons have explicated the attempts of various Ozarks promoters, like Woodruff, to present living and vacationing in the Ozarks as a step back into a perpetual paradise. The idea is both attractive and hollow, and the Paytons use advertising materials and historical photographs to show the efforts made to puff up this ideal, which can never been sustained.

The middle section of the James River Valley, from Springfield to Galena, has a history connected to the Arcadian ideal, some deep hill country culture, and geological curiosities. Here you’ll learn about Browns Spring, Hurley, Jenkins, Ponce de Leon, and Montague.

Galena, with a railroad, became the jumping off point for the classic Ozark float industry that began early in the 20th century. The railroad brought customers from Kansas City, Saint Louis and other Midwestern metropolises. At Galena, they could be placed into long, flat-bottomed boats, and spend several days fishing, camping and drinking, before disembarking at Branson. From there, they and their boats would be loaded on a northbound train to return them to Galena, and eventually take the fishermen to their homes. While there are lots of photos of strings of fish, I suspect that much of what happened on the river stayed on the river.

The lower James, more than the middle section, was caught up in the clamoring for a dam. The story of how the Corps of Engineers wrested dam-building away from private enterprises is well-told in the the Payton’s earlier book Damming the Osage. Similarly, with the boosting of engineering and construction firms, local politicians (especially Dewey Short) and chambers of commerce became convinced that the national interest would be served by a dam and reservoir on the White River, just below the point where the James River emptied in. The machinations resulting in the selection of the Table Rock dam site and the construction of the dam is fascinating and occupies a significant portion of the book.

I’m especially happy that the Paytons are interested in the economic and ecological health of the James River Valley. They have included opinions of several knowledgable people and provided their own thoughtful synthesis.

A short final section is entitled Guardians of Water Quality, and describes the good work of several organizations and individuals who are dedicated to monitoring, protecting and improving the water of this compromised system. The organizations mentioned are the James River Basin Foundation, Ozarks Water Watch, Watershed Committee off the Ozarks, and the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute at Missouri State University. I have worked with all these organizations, and believe that the work of each of them in public education will be helped by the publication of the James Fork of the White River.

SB 656: Missouri’s New Statute on Carrying Concealed Firearms and Standing Your Ground


Springfield criminal defense attorney Shane Cantin has written a well-balanced article that examines Missouri’s new legislation, SB 656, “Missouri Concealed Carry & Castle Doctrine: What You Need to Know.”

SB 656 does away with the requirement of training and a permit for carrying concealed firearms. The business of concealed carry classes and permits will still go on, though perhaps with smaller enrollments.   Missourians carrying their weapons to states that require permits will need a permit from Missouri to carry a firearm in those states.

Because of the lack of necessity of attending a class and obtaining a permit, it is possible that more people will wish to buy handguns to carry. My guess, though, is that most of the people who wish to own handguns already have purchased them, and the new law will not boost sales. As young people turn 19 and thus fall under the new law, they may purchase handguns, and some of these may enjoy the hobby of collecting and trading guns. Events, such as the Orlando shooting and the election of candidates perceived as anti-gun, often spur gun sales, more than changes in state law. I wonder about how many people who once start carrying concealed firearms continue to do so.

The modification of the castle doctrine to a stand-your-ground law expands the scope of justification as a defense to the use of lethal force. The duty to first retreat and the requirement of being in one’s home or on one’s property are eliminated. While there may be an increase in shootings due to more people being armed and feeling empowered to use guns to resolve disputes and more opportunity for accidental shootings, I am not expecting there to be any substantial economic effect from the new law. The vast majority of people who lawfully carry guns will not display or use them.

 

 

 

 

Breaking bad; closing good. So is walking away.


The rebound of the real estate market in the Ozarks seems very real, judging from the calls I get from stressed out buyers and sellers who are approaching closing dates.

Buyers sometimes want break contracts, and sellers want to force the buyers to close.

If the buyer has not made objections to the condition of the property in the proper time, or if the reason for wanting out seem weak (by “weak” I mean petty or based on alleged fraudulent concealment that shouldn’t have fooled an inspector), I tell them to either close or buy their way out with money. It is difficult for a buyer to prove that a seller has breached a contract, and spending two or three years in a lawsuit  is a very expensive way to not have fun.

If a seller calls me because a buyer is threatening to walk away from the contract, I tell the seller that a suit for specific performance (asking the judge to force the buyer to close) is unlikely to be successful and would result in the property being taken off the market while the suit is pending.

The seller’s other alternative is to sell the house to someone else, then sue the buyer for damages, which are the difference between the contract price in the first contract and the price at which the property actually sells. In a rising market, there’s a good chance of finding another buyer and perhaps getting a better price, so litigation is unnecessary.

When I get these calls, here’s what I’m really thinking. I might have been able to prevent this situation if I had been asked to assist in the preparation of the contract. I would get to meet the client when the client was happy, rather than angry.

I could have looked at the title history to the property. I could have given advice based on my long experience in this market and knowledge about such things as:

  • subdivision covenants,
  • the developer of the subdivision,
  • the builder’s reputation,
  • how well the HOA is functioning,
  • drainage and road maintenance,
  • past or pending litigation involving the property or the subdivision

Instead, I speak to people who are already upset, who seem to resent that I don’t see the other party as a villain, and who have to make a decision in the next 24 hours.

It’s a joke among lawyers that a friend or client will call a lawyer to complain about a $200 traffic ticket, but will not talk to the lawyer about a $300,000 real estate contract. So when I get the call, I have to work really hard to be sympathetic.

Owner of philandering bull strictly liable but comparatively at fault for neighbor’s injuries


When Taylor’s bull crossed the fence, attracted by Coble’s heifers, Coble hopped on his ATV. The bull charged and the ATV flipped. The bull mounted–not the heifer–but the ATV, pinning Coble, who was seriously injured. In Coble v. Taylor, the Missouri of Appeals for the Southern District reviewed Missouri’s fencing laws to affirm that Taylor was liable for Coble’s injuries resulting from his attempt to drive the bull back home. The jury awarded damages for Coble’s injuries; however, the damage award was reduced, based on the jury finding that Taylor was 65% at fault and Coble was 35% at fault.

Under Missouri’s fencing laws, particularly section 272.030, an owner of livestock is liable for damages sustained if his animal trespasses by breaching a lawful fence.

Taylor (the owner of the bull) argued that the fence was not an “exterior” fence (one along a public road, not a fence that separates the land of two different owners), but a partition fence, and therefore was not the kind of fence that section 272.030 referred to. The appellate court stated that section 272.030 was a modern statute that didn’t follow the old common law that limited the livestock owner’s liability to injuries resulting only breaches of exterior fences, which was related to the 19th century concept of fencing out free-ranging animals, rather than fencing them in.

Taylor also argued that the he and his wife should not be strictly liable for injuries resulting from animal trespass, so that they should not be liable for injuries caused by Coble flipping his ATV. “Strict liability” essentially means liability without regard to the actions of the person who was injured. The appeals court reviewed the Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 518, which is a distillation of appellate court decisions of state and federal courts, with commentary, to find that “any trespassing bull may be expected to attack and gore any other animal or any person who gets in his way.” Thus it is reasonable to expect that people will try to control the bull and get hurt doing so, and the owner of the bull should be liable.

Coble argued that the jury should not have been instructed to determine that he was partly at fault for the way he drove the ATV, which led the jury to only compensate him for only 65% of the damages that he proved. The appeals court said that the jury was properly instructed to apply Missouri’s comparative fault statute, because the Missouri Supreme Court has determined that the legislature intended for comparative fault to be applied whenever possible (other than cases of intentional injury), even though the idea of strict liability and comparative fault seem incompatible.

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