One of the great conceits of the political class is that they act as though their opinions about how things ought to be can be realized by the coercive prohibition of human action. One of the great successes of the political class is that they have convinced multitudes of people that they are right.

See, for example, the reaction of government officials and their supporters to the automatic “surge pricing” employed by Uber, the transportation networking company that drew venom from critics when their prices were raised sharply during the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia on Monday. The surge pricing is calculated to bring more drivers into service during times of extraordinary demand, which happened Monday as many people in Sydney’s central business district attempted to leave. Critics accused Uber of exploiting the crisis. Phrases like “price gouging” and “profiteering” have been dealt freely. When Uber responded by offering free rides to those leaving the area, they were accused of a disingenuous “about-face” intended to mitigate the bad PR they had begun to incur. Now, Uber has agreed to cap their surge pricing from now on during “an abnormal disruption of the market”.

That last phrase ought to seriously concern anyone who has made a basic analysis of the economics involved. A pricing cap during times of crisis is a terrible idea, as commentators are already beginning to note. It is precisely during times of crisis that the market is most needed. The market, understood as a network of freely-chosen exchange between those who need things and those who can provide them, represents the sum of all human ingenuity. It is a problem-solving megamind, irreplicable by any means imposed upon society by force.

Government regulators often criticize market activity from a position known as the Nirvana Fallacy, in which the reality of a situation is compared to an unattainable ideal. The case of surge pricing shines a bright light on this phenomenon. Basic economics informs us that in times of unusually high demand—when demand suddenly outruns supply—there are two possible outcomes. Either the price of the good must rise to meet demand, or the supply will dry up. This is because demand for any good is always for that good at a given price. Widgets at five dollars are to be distinguished from widgets at fifty dollars, as a person who wants a widget at five may no longer want it if it costs fifty. Thus, higher prices effectively decrease demand and thereby preserve supply.

So we are faced with an “imperfect reality” wherein a consumer has a choice between a high price for goods, or no goods at all. And here’s the thing the regulators wish you would ignore: despite its imperfection, that’s reality. It cannot be changed by legal fiat. Imperfect outcomes are inherent to the reality we inhabit, and they are more pronounced during crises. It is a problem, and problems require solutions; but realistic solutions require realistic appraisals of problems, and politically-managed regulation is notoriously awful at doing that.

Government regulation functions solely by depriving people of choice. By prohibiting a range of options, they believe (or at least want you to believe) that they can restrain reality to an ideal of their imagining. In the case of Uber’s surge pricing, such restriction will result in fewer drivers offering rides to consumers. In whose mind is it better to have no rides available to those who want them than to give them the choice, imperfect though it may be, of paying a high price for a ride? Probably, nobody’s. It is more plausible that the regulators honestly believe in their Nirvana Fallacy; that by prohibiting an outcome they view as “bad”, they can ensure an outcome they view as “better”. That, I think, is the more charitable interpretation, despite the frankly narcissistic overestimation of their own abilities it implies. But there is another interpretation: that the regulators know their action will result in a less favorable result than that which would obtain absent their interference, yet they do it anyway.

Why would they do that? Because those who hold political power cannot permit society to function without them. If it were ever to do so in a way that became obvious to the people, they would no longer be permitted to have that power. Governments, therefore, must prevent the outcomes following from voluntary human action, whatever those might be, and with perfect disregard for whether such prevention causes more harm than good. And so they convince the people that they are better off with a vast range of choices forcibly denied to them.

Criticism of Uber has not been limited to surge pricing. Protests against the company’s operation have been held in various cities worldwide. Some of these protests have an obvious protectionist motive: taxi companies, who in many places have long enjoyed cartel privileges granted by governments, would like to see non-cartel alternatives put out of business. But the popular support for the protests is troubling. Whether by deceit or through ignorance, politicians have convinced many people that what threatens their power also threatens the people.

This can be a cause for despair, but I would rather be hopeful. New, technology-based businesses like Uber would not be under attack from the state if they did not threaten it. And for the same reason that government regulators cannot match the market’s ability to manage human need in times of crisis, they also cannot defend themselves against the market’s ability to route around obstacles imposed by them. There are cracks in the edifice, and they are spreading.