Price is information without which buyers and sellers can't optimally
do business. One economist called the elimination of
government-controlled price ceilings and floors a version of
"protection of freedom of speech."
In lay terms, it's quite simple: if a price for a good is too low, it
gets bid up until it's right; and if a price for a good is too high,
it gets bid down until it's right. Whether that good is a share of
stock, a pound of sugar, or an hour of a chemical engineer, billions
of transactions a day help make sure buyers and sellers work things
out without actually "talking."
Which is why 311 systems like what New York, Baltimore, and Chicago
have are so crucially important for running an efficient municipality.
Cities don't have prices per se; even if you accept that your city
taxes are a form of price in exchange for a basket of goods and
services, that bill doesn't as easily move up and down as with the
Governments can exploit this and get lazy in terms of responding to
their "customer." Or they can be proactive and seek other ways of
"talking" to them. In fact, New York's 311 system gets 40,000 calls a
day. That's 40,000 interactions with your constituency, 40,000 data
points to help you know better what their needs are and how you can
That sort of information rivals what the private sector has in its
arsenal to determine how many widgets to make, what bells and whistles
to put on them, and what to sell them for. Would that more
municipalities get what New York, Baltimore, and Chicago have gotten:
that 311 can open up that conversation and get you that fast info you
need to run the bureaucracy that is your city government.