It’s Time to Bury Price Controls


February 25, 2016 8:51AM

A funeral director most likely possesses a special sort of wisdom that comes from years of confronting death, but it’s probably pushing it to say that they have the wisdom to know that processing fees for cemetery services should not exceed $100 per transaction. Yet that’s what is being asserted in a new bill that seeks to micromanage the business operations of cemetery owners.

This is price fixing, plain and simple, and was written at the behest of persons in the business of providing cemetery services. Some of their competitors were, evidently, making a bit too much money, perhaps charging a $110 fee. As if government is doing so well regulating our lives the present, they now want to oversee our decisions in the hereafter. While this is a well-intentioned idea, the ultimate result of this policy would be to drive up costs on Tennesseans at the worst possible time: when they are laying a loved one to rest.

Some disagree. Having been told too many times what to do while above ground, I intend on accepting no more government instruction when below it. What a funeral and related services should cost is something on which government regulators have no expertise. They have plenty of expertise on roads and delivering the mail. Those aren’t experiences I’d care to replicate. Why a $100 for a processing fee? Will we revisit this yearly to adjust for inflation?

Price controls are sad, stupid, and familiar. The Romans tried them. So did the Puritans. FDR’s price controls resulted in a 49-year-old immigrant being incarcerated for charging 35 cents for a 40-cent suit. An apartment in NYC might cost you $10,000 or just $700 (it all depends on the Rent Guidelines Board) and the U.S. government has set 2015 wool and mohair loan rates right down to the micron. It goes on. Milton Friedman said that economists might not know much, but they know how to produce a shortage. What’s remarkable is that 1) price controls never work, and 2) we keep trying them anyway, creating a raft of problems that other, smarter people would care to explain.

I don’t care about cemetery fees. I doubt you do either. Both of us would prefer to not have an opinion on the matter. But when they creep into laws, we don’t have a choice. That’s the point. These sorts of laws are endemic. I say no more. When you can’t find relief in death, they’ve gone too far.