Let’s sea if we can bung some politicians and make a fortune

Two of the BBC’s “Dragons” – judges on a talent show for start ups – have invested some of their own cash in a cute little product called “Seabung”. It’s a rubber thing, shaped like a plunger but working in reverse. You push it down through one of several holes in the bottom of a normal boat – the one your poop goes out of, or the water for your engine comes in through – when you want to repair or maintain the shut off valve, that’s the valve that stops sea water gushing up through your toilet whenever your hull slaps down back into the water after cresting a wave.

The product has a couple of issues. One of the major use cases is to stop you from having to remove the boat from the water when “maintaining” valves, but pleasure boats come out of the water regularly for all sorts of maintenance tasks. One of the Dragons doubted it would work, and there are simpler cheaper alternatives such as simple bits of wood, which are the usual remedy in an emergency, and some valves might not be compatible anyway – such as any with a grill over them. These challenges are not of any interest at all to the Dragons though (namely Deborah Meaden and Kelly Hoppen). They didn’t ask about these issues but they were sure they wanted to give it a “punt”. What gave them the confidence to invest their own cash in a product they knew little about?

Well, the dollar signs flashed in their eyes when the entrepreneurs mentioned they would seek to get safety legislation changed to make their product compulsory. That, of course, would mean they don’t have to persuade anyone if it would work, or persuade anyone that they really needed it, they would have to buy it anyway. The “punt” they were taking was that if the proposed change in the law was achieved the Dragons would get 10% of the profits each. A more brazen attempt at crony capitalism has never been seen.

This was rent seeking of the highest order and it was totally OK by everyone on the show. The mind boggles at how often such things must happen. It is not that a bribe was offered to politicians on national TV, but that changing laws to make your product compulsory was discussed as an attractive business strategy with no discussion at all of whether a such a move was ethically appropriate. In these circumstances how long will it be before someone on the project (an employee, PR man, a shareholder etc) decides it is in their interests to offer a bung to a politician? The Dragons concerned should certainly think twice before donating to any political parties in the near future!

Thank you BBC for a very clear and accessible demonstration of something libertarians have been talking about for decades.

LATER: You can watch the episode online.

2 Comments

  1. Like all good capitalists, the dragons are not interested in competing fairly in any market place but are hooked on products that have “protection” provided by patents or, in this case, by coercive regulation.

    Having appeared on the show a couple of weeks ago I have an extremely jaundiced view of the whole programme. You can read my account here.

    http://eriderbikes.com/dragons-den-inside-story/

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  2. Yes – F. A. Hayek was mistaken. Things can not just be allowed to “evolve” (otherwise the state will just grow and grow – both in size and scope), people DO (rather than do not) need to have a conscious knowledge of correct principles, and make a choice (a real choice) to support moral good (moral good – not whatever “feels good”, i.e. is in their financial interests or whatever) against evil.

    Ken Ferguson is, partly, wrong – some capitalists actually reject using state legislation to make people buy their products. But only capitalists (i.e. people who own a business – for that is what a “capitalist” is – other definitions of the word “capitalist” are false) who actually understand the difference between moral right and wrong, and have made a choice (a moral choice) to do what is right – not what is wrong.

    Of course the best solution is to strip the state of the power to create “legislation” – i.e. to turn arbitrary (or corrupt) whims into law. See Bruno Leoni – “Freedom And The Law”.

    However, as Rothbard (no – I did not disagree with Rothbard on everything) pointed out in his examination of Leoni’s work – for people to reject the idea of “legislation” they (ordinary people) must have a clear idea of what “law” really is – and what it is not. That “The Law” is what Bastiat said it was – i.e. the practical application of the nonaggression principle of justice.

    In the words of Ayn Rand – justice (and law) is “hands off” – do not attack me and do not steal my stuff.

    Lycophon was correct (do not bother looking him up on Wikipedia – the leftists who dominate that forbid any correct description of Lycophon, or of Thomas Hobbes or of Rousseau or of ……. just read the actual books by these people [sadly none of Lycophon’s survive – so we have to go by Aristotle’s attack upon him in “The Politics”], do not bother with the nonsense of most academics and students) and Aristotle, in “The Politics” was wrong.

    Law really is about do not violate my body and goods and I will not violate your body and goods – law is NOT about making people “just and good”, there is no role (in a free society – or anything close to it) for a “Law Giver” (whether of Aristotle or Rousseau) with unlimited powers to make people “just and good” (in the words of Aristotle) by controlling just about everything in Civil Society.

    People must have (contra Hobbes) the ability, with effort, to work out moral right from wrong, and (again contra Hobbes) the ability, again with effort, to choose moral right against the desire to do evil.

    And, again contra Hobbes, if the state tries to control every aspect of human life – armed resistance to such a state (in defence of others – NOT just in defence of yourself) must be legitimate.

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