The Real Cost of Regulation

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Last month I watched an episode of the great Fox Business Network show “Stossel,” devoted to the idea that increasing government power is pushing us down “the road to serfdom.”

At one point near the show’s end, Stossel used a Reason. TV story involving Drew Carey, who told of a hardworking Hispanic-American woman running her own business selling bacon dogs from a portable stand on the streets of Los Angeles. Doing so is illegal because local regulators demand that such items be prepared only in upscale stands costing $27,000, with multiple sinks to allow preparation of the bacon separate from other items. They claim this is for public safety, even though this woman had been selling bacon dogs for decades without ever having a customer get sick or complain. She spent over ten thousand dollars defending herself, was in jail for several months, lost her customers because her business was temporarily closed down and then because she couldn’t sell the bacon dogs her customers wanted. The audience laughed as Stossel told the story.

He understood why they were laughing: it’s a minor example of regulation, one of thousands he could have regaled us with. Arrested for selling bacon dogs . . . so absurd it’s laughable, right?

Stossel made his apologies for the live audience to the viewers at home. But I am not mollified. Had I been Stossel, I would have turned to the audience and asked, “Why are you laughing? A poor woman who got up every day to serve her customers, working 12-hour days to make a meager income, had her liberty taken away — was thrown in jail for several months. She had her business taken from her, her savings destroyed — and you’re laughing? What you should be doing is stopping every time you see the local bureaucrats who are responsible for this sort of atrocity, pointing to them, and saying, “You are despicable. You are ruining people’s lives. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

Of course I am not Stossel, and I am aware that he knows much better than I how to produce a television show. But if his goal, as it seems to be, is to highlight libertarian principles, he should be aware that those principles will not reanimate the American public while people still feel safe laughing about the government’s destroying lives. The people who founded this country pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. And they weren’t laughing.

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