Growing up, electric cars were among the narrative devices that science fiction films used to let you know you were in “the far future,” along with computers that fit in your pocket, video conference calls, and a black President. As a geek, I love new and creative technology, especially when that technology was stuff we dreamed about as kids.
Here’s the thing though: Even if I hit the lottery, I can’t buy a Tesla Motors electric car.
In fact, nobody can buy a Tesla car in Texas. The State of Texas has decided that you can’t buy a car from Tesla.
Why? Well, the Texas Automobile Dealers Association lobbied hard against letting Tesla sell cars in Texas, spending $278,750 on Texas political campaigns – about 75% to Republicans, (including $2000 to Rep. Dale, the incumbent in the seat I’m running for.) [Editor's Note: On the Texans for Public Justice website, where in addition to the $278,750 from the TX Auto Dealers Assoc. Pac, you can also see the $453,324 from Thomas Dan Friedkin of Gulf State Toyota, the $331,310 from Gulf States Toyota PAC, and $306,500 from B.J. 'Red' McCombs, of the Red McCombs Auto Group. ]
Tesla doesn’t use car dealerships. They sell directly to the consumer. No haggling, no upselling, no commission for employees, and uniform prices at every store. You just point to the car, say “I want that,” and you buy it. It makes a lot of sense for Tesla. Customers don’t like car dealers, and car dealers don’t like electric cars, so why would you try to sell an electric car to a customer through a car dealership? It is capitalism – a producer of a good is responding to the incentives of the market.
But the car dealerships feared, perhaps correctly, that if Tesla Motors could sell cars directly to consumers, there would be no way to stop other car companies from selling directly to consumers. And they got their way because they bought the laws they wanted, laws which prop up their outdated business model at the expense of Texas consumers and innovative entrepreneurs.
So because Tesla doesn’t go through a completely unnecessary middleman who turns the pleasant experience of buying a car into something resembling haggling for a donkey in Marrakesh, they can’t sell their cars in Texas.
This begs the question: Isn’t this the exact opposite of what Republicans say they’re going to do when they talk about “preserving free markets” and “ending burdensome regulations”?
Tesla Motors doesn’t just present a case study of why a lack of campaign finance reform blocks meaningful reform on the issues that Democrats care about, like climate change and health care. A lack of campaign finance reform blocks reforms on both the Left and the Right.
Here’s the big elephant in the room I’d like to point out to all the “elephants” in the room: With a Republican-controlled legislature, a Republican executive, and many conservatives in our judiciary, why the hell don’t we have free markets in Texas? Isn’t it the very core of economic-conservative theory that the invisible hand of the free market determines who gets what resources? Doesn’t the free market have the ability to direct resources to where they can most efficiently be used?
I’m not saying the conservatives are right in these assumptions; but I am saying that our broken campaign finance system makes a mockery of them.
Where conservatives and progressives can find common ground, we also have a common enemy. And no, I’m not talking about the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. They are representing their industry, and doing it well, and I can’t fault them for looking out for their own economic private interests.
Our common enemy is a system where private interests are put before the public interest when we elect public officials, to represent the public.
And if you can spare it, kick in some money to my campaign. Lord knows that after this post, I’m not getting any money from the Texas Automobile Dealers Association…
Since the original article was posted, here are some more resources:
- Texans for Public Justice: Car-Dealer Cartel Stalled Musk’s Tesla [PDF]
- Slashdot: How car dealership lobbyists successfully banned Tesla Motors from Texas, from the Don’t Mess With Texas Unless You Can Float Some Benjamins Department.
- Discussion on Reddit’s /r/politics including an insightful comment by /u/marknau and reply.
- Discussion on Reddit’s /r/teslamotors