The end-result of any powerful bureaucracy with tons of rules and regulations is a neo-feudal state.
But, Sarah, you say, what if the rules and regulations are designed to protect the little guy from the big guys? What if they’re designed to keep free competition and make the individual competitive?
Well, then the bureaucrats have got better at disguising their intent, but for the result, refer to the first line.
Let me explain – regardless of what the supposed intent of the rules and regulations: clean air, clean water, competitiveness, honesty, what all rules and regulations imposed by a government do is a) create a bureaucracy. b) add to the cost of doing business/existing the cost of filling paperwork/jumping through hoops.
The result of a) is that bureaucracy’s are self perpetuating and self enlarging. I.e. suppose you create a bureaucracy to make sure people don’t sell tainted meat to the public. It’s a relatively simple mission and with some inspections and certifications, it is accomplished, to where the bureaucracy is pretty much stable. Only the only way the heads of the bureaucracy are going to be promoted/get paid more is to enlarge their mission/empire. So, soon the pressure comes to make sure people also don’t sell tainted fish. Then there are a lot more people working there, and they all want to advance. So after a while you have people measuring the salt content of restaurant food according to rather dubious science.
The result of b) is that if you find yourself unemployed and decide to start a business going to various offices and selling your prize chocolate chip cookies from that recipe your mom made up… you can’t do it. Or rather, to do it, you have to have substantial savings which allow you to rent a place to cook in that will pass inspection (which means out of the house, away from cats/kids.) and you have to have the time to fill all the paper work. And the money to buy enormous levels of insurance. Easier, really to shrug, stay on the dole and collect unemployment. But even say you want to start a business that has nothing to do with food – say computer repair, or software writing.
Do you know the sheer load of paper work required for me to operate my “I make up crap, put it on paper and people buy it” business? My husband probably loses three months of his own potential writing to keep all our accounting straight. Indie publishing, if you publish anyone else, becomes a mind boggling maze. I have friends who are publishing other friends under their indie imprint and who are in a very shaky situation in regards to regulations/law. All fine so long as no one complains or the IRS has no reason to look into it. At which point it will be an eye-crossing mess. (I advise that if you want to publish other people, even occasionally, and/or collaborations you consider an LLC or another “collective ownership model” for the press. One that limits your liability.)
But Sarah, you say, do you favor selling tainted meat/fish/cat hair cookies?
Well, first I’m here to tell you Upton Sinclair was full of it and greatly exaggerated what was going on in the unregulated food market place. And second that the “solution” of greater government regulation of the food market place is a crazy solution to a vanishingly small problem.
I’m going to tell you right now that I have no clue to what extent food was regulated in Portugal when I was little. In Portugal, at least when I was growing up, (perhaps not now) regulations ranging from traffic codes to work law happened to other people, but not to any one individual. The general consensus was that there ought to be a law, but each individual thought he or she, personally, should be exempt. So, even though Portugal was the first country in Europe to ban child labor, by the time I finish fourth grade 90% of my classmates went into the textile mills to work. How? Well, there was a loophole, if your child was mentally deficient and couldn’t learn. So… I think doctors printed this by the case load, and signed them for a small consideration. Girls who finished fourth grade with As and reading perfectly were certified too dumb to learn and went into the textile mills. And even though I’m sure there was some milk regulation – one of my aunts by marriage was a milkmaid in her youth and was cited for watering the milk twice… according to my mom (which might or might not be true. They didn’t get along) – we bought ours across the street from the farmer, and so did most of the village, and the village policemen didn’t care. And street vendors were often unlicensed. They weren’t supposed to be, mind. But they ran when the police came. And I doubt anyone looked very closely at where the food that people sold on the street was cooked.
Chaos, right? People must have died left and right from food poisoning. What about all that meat with maggots?
Okay… guys – there is one thing all this ignores… People aren’t stupid. Individual people aren’t stupid. Yes, in times when food is really, really, really scarce someone might get away with selling food with maggots. But that’s a different matter. Most of the time, people aren’t dumb.
We had fishmongers who took the bus every morning to the beach then came BY BUS from village to village selling. They were outsiders, but people would look-see. The best way to build a big business? Take the bite and throw away (or eat) yesterday’s unsold fish. The best way to destroy your business? Slip up, even once, and wash and deodorize old fish (a bleach solution) and sell it in the middle of the fresh. Because sooner or later someone would taste the “off” or get ill. And the word would go out, slowly but surely. (And people still get ill. Look at all the contamination in the exquisitely regulated EEC. Two years ago it was Belgian cantelopes.)
Even in the big city, this happened. There is this Portuguese sweet called Honey Cakes. It would probably be illegal here (grin.) It is made from the ground up remains of stale cake and a lot of honey, formed into little patties and sold.
I was crazy for this stuff. For one, it was usually cheap, and when you’re a still-growing student with limited money working twelve hour days between school and job, I needed the quick energy. (I was also stick thin. Sigh.)
There was this deli that was known for them. My earliest memory of the honey cakes came from my mom taking me there and getting me honey cakes and lemonade when I was maybe three.
Well, in my second year of college, on a freezing cold day, I stopped there and grabbed two honey cakes and an espresso, between my college and my French class at the French institute. There I was walking under the drizzle (Porto is known as little London for a reason) juggling espresso, cake and umbrella, and I feel something tickle my lip. I pull back… the honey cake was literally crawling with worms. I think it was the last time I bought honey cake anywhere. It was the last time I bought one at that deli. To this day I don’t know what happened, except it was after the holidays, and I think someone young and stupid – it was a family business – forgot to toss the honeycakes they’d left on the shelf over the break. Or perhaps thought “Hey, it’s made form stale stuff, so who cares?”
I didn’t tell anyone, because at the time I didn’t have any friends who did that route or went there. But anytime I saw the honey cakes in the window, I felt that tickle on my lip and saw the worms, and the appetite was QUITE gone. Over the next six months, the store slowly went out of business.
(Of course, the way to handle, if they figured it out, was to put a big sign up front saying “We apologize for” and “we guarantee it won’t happen again” and “Come in and try it free.” BUT that’s what an American business would do. For cultural reasons it would be very difficult in Portugal.)
Mind you, yes, a lot of us still got bad food to begin with – though I’m sure I could have got a refund, if I hadn’t been so shocked/disgusted I didn’t even want to think of it. But the problem self-corrected.
Over the years, btw, that I bought from street vendors at fairs, and from farmers and from that lady down the street who does wonderful roast lamb, I never once had another experience like that.
So – am I saying we should leave it entirely to the free market?
I’m saying we should be aware of the trade off. It is not “regulate food, nothing bad happens” “don’t regulate food, you get horrible things” it’s more “regulate food and create a massive bureaucracy that might or might not cut down on the really bad incidences of tainted food, but which will do things like break into a picnic and destroy all the food because it was grown in a co-op and not inspected.” Or “Regulate food and prevent people from bringing food to homeless shelters because it might not conform.” Or “regulate food and prevent people consuming raw milk if they so choose, knowing the hazards of it.” OR “regulate food and prevent someone selling their prize cookies, which they cook in a spotless kitchen, but not one that conforms to regulations” (BTW, a friend who did micro-brewing called his beer Cat Hair Beer, one cat hair guaranteed per bottle. We all wanted it.)
And this is with food regulations which have a (sort of) objective point and verification to them. I.e. food is either tainted, or it isn’t. It either contains x of fat and calories or it doesn’t. It either… You know what I mean.
When you start getting into the airy fairy realm of regulations that are supposed to do things like “give the little guy a chance to compete” you’re inviting the small god of unintended consequences (he looks like an ugly doll and laughs when you touch him) into your house and giving him the best seat.
For instance, under the assumption that anyone who doesn’t work for the government is in fact a crook and looking to cheat someone else, there are minimum wage regulations. Yes, yes, look at that. The small god is giggling.
What minimum wage regulations do is not make sure that everyone makes what is “fair” – whatever that is. I never understood “fair” past distributing cookies in Kindergarten – it is rather to price labor away from many small employers.
Well, because no two employees are alike and to be blunt, there are jobs a blindfolded monkey could perform. To pay (I don’t remember how much it is now. Is it $10?) x dollars an hour for it is to price it out of what employers can pay for it. This means the job either goes undone (if it’s something optional, like sweeping in front of the store, say) or … well, you hire illegally to do it.
And there’s absolutely NO point saying “But that’s illegal.” Yes, so it is. But ask the farmers who hire illegals to pay minimum wage, and they go out of business. They simply don’t have that margin. As for the “little guy” – usually a high school kid and totally unskilled – who’d be doing the job otherwise, he goes unemployed, living in mom’s basement and never learns that there are far worse things than chem. finals. (For the record here, I’d like to point out my very first job in the US, a retail job, which familiarized me with cultural quirks like “eight am doesn’t mean eight thirty to nine” – I learned fast, so I kept it a while – and gave me a work history in the US paid less than two dollars per hour. Yes, this was in 87. It still was not princely.)
Then there’s the paperwork. I’d be perfectly willing (the years I make more money. Not right now) to pay someone $10 an hour to do some work for me: say come in and do a quick clean, and start dinner, or perhaps (depending on the day) proofread something and put it up. (Yes, I could hire a cleaning service, but that’s different. A cleaning service mostly does what I can do myself faster – sorry, but true – for way too much money. What I mean is someone who comes in three hours a day and does whatever is driving me nuts that day.
The problem is I would need to file all sorts of paperwork, pay social security and disability and all that – and that I can’t do. Either the money OR the sheer amount of work to fill all the papers needed. In the end, it would be hiring someone to do the work needed to hire someone. Uh. So I do for myself, which keeps my work capped at a certain point. I can only grow so much.
Mind you, at this point given the unemployment among the young, I probably could hire an unpaid “intern” to come in and “assist with” my work as an author. These people then have the experience to apply for jobs people can’t afford to hire them for, even with experience. I’ve heard too much about internships that lead nowhere to wish to exploit the young myself. BUT people are doing it. So, our regulation to prevent exploitation… yeah… That small god has a belly ache from giggling.
The healthcare law adds a hellish level to this, so even medium size companies will have trouble complying with either the costs or the mind boggling level of paperwork to document compliance.
This is why big corporations donate to the candidates favoring more regulations. And then people ask for more regulations to protect them from the corporations. And then… You see where this is headed?
The final stage of this system is a place where only massive entities and bureaucrats have nay power, and the rest of us are serfs. The sheer amount of paperwork, regulations and hoops to jump through to prevent the evil, evil individuals from doing the nasty stuff they’d do without government supervision, means no one can strike out on their own.
And every time anyone protests, you get told “Do you want meat with maggots?”
(The funny thing is that once the system is ossified and there is no alternative to the big guys, you’ll have meat with maggots and like it. Ask China and the insecticide in infant formula or the slippers that will burn your skin.)
This doesn’t last – not unless it’s a very small country and it has a history of totalitarianism (and even then, who knows how long Cuba will last?) – the blackmarket flourishes all along (people have to live) and eventually the whole thing crashes.
But people who think they’ll come out on top think this time it will be different. Their techno-feudalism will be perfect and efficient, with well-groomed, healthy serfs who sing happy songs at the state mandated – Sorry. I’m getting nauseated.
So – do we go quietly into that good night? I say no. I say now is the time to start admitting that if regulations aren’t good for you, then they’re probably not good/needed for other people either. It’s the time to say “No, there ought not to be a law.” It’s also time to start subverting, escaping, inventing new ways to do things. Use the technology you must to do things in ways that avoid regulations. Study the regulations and find the loopholes. Go around, go through, do what you can without dealing with the government, but keep trying. Don’t give up. Find a way.
And don’t be afraid of tainted meat. The maggots all have jobs as government bureaucrats.