The Market for Squirrel Catchers
People often say of a weak candidate, “He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher.” But actually, this isn’t a sensible criticism at all.
If someone were actually running for dogcatcher, I would want to know his previous experience in catching dogs. This is a demonstrable, objective skill that someone either has or does not have. I certainly couldn’t get elected dogcatcher. Could you? In any event, it would be silly to pick dogcatchers via elections — we should let the market do so, so we end up with professional companies using trained professionals, just as the market for squirrel catcher demonstrates.
I’m thinking about this because for at least two years, I had simply ignored the fact that there were clearly squirrels living inside the front wall of my house. Several times a week, I could hear them scampering around and even scratching away as they gradually expanded their domain. As I type these words, I can’t believe how long I let the situation persist, but money was always tight, and once you let the first six months go by, the next 18 are a blur…
What finally snapped me out of my paralysis was talking with some of my childhood friends on a trip back to my hometown. One guy pointed out that in addition to whatever damage the critters were surely doing to the physical structure, there was a danger that they might have fleas. Up until this point, I had been amusing myself remembering a scene from a Chevy Chase Christmas movie, thinking that the worst-case scenario would be chasing a cute little guy out of my house. But fleas?! That was serious.
My childhood friend was quite sure that I would end up with several dead squirrels in the wall of my house, because he assumed the only way to deal with them would be to seal up the hole(s) they were using to come and go.
I scoffed. “Nah, surely there’s a way to flush them out of there. Like somebody could pump in a chemical that irritates them, or something.”
But my friend laughed, thinking I was dreaming. He assured me there would be rotting carcasses once I “solved” the problem.
But it turns out my friend’s cynicism was unwarranted. When I got home, I did some quick searching on the Internet and decided to have a guy from Critter Control come give me a free consultation. After walking around on my roof and listening to my explanation of the sounds I had been hearing — and the fact that I had once actually seen a squirrel poke its head out at me from a hole they had burrowed above my garage — the guy told me his plan. It was far more sophisticated than I had envisioned.
First, he would lay mesh all along the underside of my roofline on the front of my house, because there were numerous spots where the squirrels had been coming and going. Then, at the main hole (where I had seen the one poking its head out), he would install a one-way door. That’s right, he had a contraption that he could fasten to my house that would let the squirrels leave, but not come back in.
I loved this plan and wanted him to start right away. But he said no, that would be a bad idea. It was the time of year when the squirrels would have recently given birth, and he didn’t want to trap the mother outside the house while the babies were still inside, too young to be able to walk outside on their own. If that were to happen, the mother would go crazy trying to claw her way back into the house through some other area. So he would come back in a few weeks to implement the plan.
After this initial consultation, I was simply amazed at the wonders of the division of labor. Not only was this guy an expert on the behavior of squirrels, but there were obviously companies that produced specialized equipment for home squirrel removal. Before seeing it with my own eyes, I wasn’t sure such options existed — remember my friend’s cynicism.
Now, I do want to be honest, I did have some trouble with the company after this initially very pleasant consultation. A subordinate came and installed the mesh, as well as a trap. The service plan involved someone from the company coming to check the trap daily, because they prided themselves on being humane — they would take a captured animal and release it away from the neighborhood. (This also was useful for public relations, so that the squirrels wouldn’t simply leave my house and “move into” my next-door neighbor’s.)
Well, I think the guy who had been assigned my house must have been overtaxed, because he certainly wasn’t checking the trap daily. So I called and complained to the older guy who had given me the initial consultation. He apologized, and from that point forward, the service was snappy. Since their last visit to remove the fourth (I think) trapped squirrel, I haven’t heard any more sounds from my wall.
After thinking about it some more, I realized that this aspect of my story too was a sign of the wonder of market capitalism — people aren’t perfect, but the boss knows he has to get his employees back on track in order to keep the customer happy. If squirrel removal were a government monopoly and the person assigned to my house weren’t doing his job, I don’t know that his boss would have been so alarmed by my complaint.
In conclusion, when people run for positions far more significant than dogcatcher — such as “murderer catcher” or “bank robber catcher” or “foreign terrorist catcher” — we don’t see just how unqualified our politicians (and the judicial/military/espionage personnel they appoint) really are, because the market isn’t allowed to operate in these arenas. But if we imagine how much worse squirrel catchers would be if selected by elections, rather than market competition, then we get a sense of the tremendous waste and tragedy caused by our present political institutions with their monopolies on legal and military services.
Original article posted on Laissez-Faire Today