Regulation in capital cities

David Henderson notes that taxicab fares in Washington DC are much lower than anywhere else in the US, and for this he mentions the fact that Congressmen are frequent taxicab consumers in DC, and thus oppose any move to restrict supply, as is the case in other American cities.

But, I tell my students, there is one big counterexample: Washington, D.C. Why? Because Congress has a lot of say over the running of the D.C. government. So here the consumers, whose ranks include Congress and Congressional staffers, have a great deal of leverage over the regulators. Result: No way will Congress cooperate in artificially restricting supply and driving up cab fares that they themselves pay. That’s why cab fares in D.C. have traditionally been so low compared to fares for a given distance and time in other U.S. cities.

By that logic, Delhi and other state capital cities should have great public transport and infrastructure since MPs and MLAs are consumers there, and they wouldn’t want to impose higher costs on themselves. Why hasn’t that happened?

The simple answer is that as far as “government servants” in India are concerned, there is private provisioning of such goods. Thus the state takes care of accommodation and transport for these people. Since they live in a concentrated area, such areas are much less likely to suffer power cuts compared to the rest of the city. If you are a more senior government officer (of the grade of minister or chief minister or prime minister, say), you even get right of way on the roads and are not stopped by traffic.

Because we have elected to solve these problems for “government servants” in India by private provisioning rather than public provisioning, such “servants” are not consumers like anyone else. And thus, their presence in a city has no impact on public goods in the same city!

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