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Sorry this is a long one. It’s just a news story I read today got to me.
I’m a pretty happy and good natured guy. But there are a few things that really get under my skin. Bullying is one of them. Destroying people’s livelihoods for no good reason is another. Add them together, toss in some corn syrup, and you’ve got quite a wretched concoction.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what is happening right now in Chicago. And it’s symbolic of a serious national problem.
Kris Swanberg is one of the many Americans forced into unemployment during the 2008 recession. But the Chicago mom didn’t let that hold her back. Instead, she put her entrepreneurial skills into action and created her own company: Nice Cream.
According to her website:
Nice Cream is a seasonal ice cream handcrafted right here in Chicago, IL. We use fresh & organic ingredients from local farms that treat their animals with love and respect. You can feel nice about putting this in your belly. We promise!
Her tasty treat is so healthy and popular that she became a favorite at local farmers markets and even started getting stocked at Whole Foods. As the Chicago Tribune put it, “Nice Cream is considered a star of Chicago’s rich and beloved artisanal ice cream scene.”
Indeed, things were really flying for Kris…until mid-July.
That’s when officials from the Chicago Department of Public Health showed up, telling her that she had to shut down—or else spend over $40,000 and jump through countless hoops to get the government’s permission (in the form of a special license) to keep working.
Her problem? She uses fresh, healthy ingredients.
A government official said that if she switched from using fresh strawberries to corn syrup, and from real ice cream to a fake processed mix, she should be able to get their blessing to keep working.
As another official put it, they would make Kris’s life much easier if she simply used a pre-made ice cream mix—the non-food processed junk that’s full of additives and used at places like Dairy Queen.
And the problem with the strawberries? A government spokesperson explained that real strawberries are bad “because when you try and clean a strawberry to make sure it doesn’t have any bacteria, it kind of deteriorates.” Of course, corn syrup doesn’t have that problem.
The thing is, in no way is this bullying an isolated incident. Consider Chicago entrepreneur Flora Lazar. The health inspectors showed up, opened up all her healthy fruit, and poured bleach all over them. And then fined her $500. Incidentally, she happened to be getting interviewed by a Chicago Tribune food reporter who caught it on film:
Beth is currently fighting for Chicago food vendors. She launched a campaign called My Streets! My Eats! because the city has taken to ticketing and even arresting vendors for simply serving their customers. Regulations currently prohibit vendors from working within 200 feet of bricks-and-mortar restaurants. It’s also illegal for vendors to put toppings on a hot dog from their cart or serve any food before 10 am. Here’s a quick video that explains:
You’ve probably heard about the raw food raids. Reason magazine shot an excellent video and posted it to their blog, including these comments:
This summer armed government agents raided Rawesome Foods, a Venice, California health food co-op. What were the agents after? Unpasteurized milk, it turns out.
Raw milk raids are happening all over the United States. The Food and Drug Administration warns that raw milk consumption can cause health problems, but a growing community of raw foods enthusiasts are ignoring government recommendations and claiming that they are getting tastier, more nutritious food by going raw.
Sometimes these regulations come about because officials have too much power and time on their hands. And all-too-often these laws are put in place for one reason: to protect a politically powerful group from honest competition.
That happened this year in El Paso, when the city turned itself into a No Vending Zone, telling all food vendors they couldn’t operate within 1,000 feet of any restaurant, convenience store or grocer. And they couldn’t even park outside the zone; they had to drive around and wait to be flagged down. Vendors caught violating the laws were threatened with thousands of dollars in fines.
Why did these ridiculous laws pop up? The restaurants didn’t like the competition and so they got their buddies in government to hamstring the vendors. They even admitted it on camera: “We wanted this ordinance in place to help established restaurants keep their businesses.”
Even the city’s health inspector admitted that the law was purely protectionist and had nothing to do with health or safety. Cool enough, both of these comments were caught on tape:
Occupational licensing as a means of protecting favored insiders isn’t limited to small food producers and vendors. Such laws are everywhere in America today. I wrote about this a couple years back for the Foundation for Economic Education in a piece called The Right to Earn a Living Under Attack. Consider a few recent examples:
- Mercedes Clemens was threatened with thousands of dollars in fines and criminal prosecution unless she stopped . . . massaging horses. The vet cartel was pissed that she was cutting into what they figured was a potentially lucrative market, so they decided to hamstring her with legislation instead of competing fairly.
- Louisianans were told they had to get the government’s permission to sell and arrange . . . flowers. And to get that permission, they had to pass a special test, which was conveniently graded by existing florists.
- My home state of Ohio fined a parent $10,000 for competing with the Cleveland Bar Association. The CBA filed a complaint that the concerned parent represented his autistic son without a CBA-approved attorney when he sued his school board because of the poor quality of his son’s education.
- In California you can’t help people devastated by forest fires unless you’re part of a politically connected contracting crew. The government went so far as to send out a press release during a massive fire warning unlicensed workers that doing things like removing debris is a serious felony subjecting them to $10,000 fines and 16 months in prison.
- Monks were threatened with crippling fines and jail for selling wood boxes. The funeral industry didn’t like the competition.
Not to get all philosophical, but think for a bit about this question: What defines you most as a person?
If you think about it, nothing will more influence who you are as an individual and who you become as you get older than what you choose to do for a living, with the possible exception of who you marry, whether you have kids and maybe your faith.
But if you think about what you put most of your time and most of your energy into, and the thing that shapes you most as an individual, for most of your life it’s what you do for a living. And the idea that your ability to choose and work in your field of employment gets no respect, well that’s really concerning.
This goes back through history, all the way to the time of guilds in the middle ages and even before that. What happens is, somebody who is earning a living in a particular way is concerned about competition. It comes down to that. And what do you do?
Well, if someone shows up to the market with a better mousetrap, or opens a better restaurant or a better flower arranging business or whatever, and you know you can’t compete with them because they’re delivering a better product or service at a better price, you have three options:
- You can lose business, or even go out of business
- You can step up your game
- You can hamstring them
The single best and most effective way to hamstring a competitor in today’s world, certainly in America, is to go to the government and manipulate the levers of government power. To put anti-competitive regulations on the books that will hamstring your competitors. Those regulations go by the name protectionism. And they typically are cloaked in occupational licensing schemes.
According to an outstanding piece worth reading from Forbes magazine called The New Unions:
Today there are 1,100 occupations–from secretaries and librarians in Georgia to wallpaper hangers in California–that require a license in at least one state, according to the Council of State Governments. That’s up from roughly 80 in 1981.
To be clear, not all of these laws are purely protectionist. And I don’t know if Nice Cream is the victim of a protectionist scheme or simply the result of bullying — or as the Huffington Post puts it, “a state-created bureaucratic nightmare that has put the company’s entire future in jeopardy.”
Regardless, licensing laws have exploded over the last few decades, and largely to protect the politically powerful at the expense of entrepreneurs and consumers. According to economist Morris Kleiner, licensing laws drain $100 billion from the economy in lost output, and transfer $300 billion from consumers to protected insiders.
Most fundamentally, such laws are wrong because there’s something morally important about living your own life on your own terms.
Simply put, we should have the freedom to earn an honest living without being subject to such arbitrary and offense regulations. And we should have the freedom to choose what we buy — including where we get our food & who we get it from.
As for eating primal, health officials shouldn’t be working to make healthy food more difficult to buy and sell. They need to stop bullying entrepreneurs and protecting industry insiders. We should demand better from them.
Everyone deserves to be healthy and free.
(If you would like to get involved in helping to save Nice Cream, click here.)