April 21, 2011
A deeply held, yet wildly inaccurate myth spread by the
unreflective Left is that business owners and executives -- no matter what
product or service they sell, no matter how large or small their firms -- adamantly
support a free market.
Run a company? Then you kneel before Adam Smith, and economic
Darwinism is your credo. Heck, you probably own an Ayn Rand book or two!
Analysts who study tax and regulatory policies a bit more
thoroughly than typical viewers of “The Rachel Maddow Show” understand that the
businessman-as-free-marketeer theory has never been true.
The technical term is “rent seeking.” Entrepreneurs and corporations
do it all the time.
Economist defined rent seeking succinctly:
“Cutting yourself a bigger slice of the cake rather than making the cake
producers whine about cheap imports -- and win protections from Washington.
lobbies to keep quotas on foreign competitors. GE
backs expensive, scientifically indefensible “environmental” policies that line
its shareholders’ pockets. State-administered license
schemes limit the number of “professionals” allowed to offer services, thus
driving up prices.
Researchers have uncovered so many examples of economic
interests using government coercion to gain advantages, for serious people, the
matter is settled: Businesses rarely support laissez-faire capitalism. When given the means and opportunity,
most will boost the bottom line with unfair, if legal, tactics that tilt the
playing field in their favor.
It’s a vicious truth unlearned by many Deep Thinkers in academia
and inside the Beltway. For
food-truck operators Yvonne Castaneda, Maria Robledo, Martha Avila, and
Michelle Garcia, it’s daily life.
The ladies are challenging the City of El Paso’s outrageous policy of banning mobile
meal vendors from parking within 1,000 feet of “food service establishments”
and “food product establishments.” Yes, the protected businesses, defined
in the city’s municipal code, include restaurants, supermarkets, and
As difficult as it may be to imagine, there’s more. Kitchens-on-wheels
cannot “park and await customers,” they “may only park to serve customers who
are already present and seeking the service of the mobile establishment.”
As rent-seeking goes, it doesn’t get much worse. Not only are vendors
barred from a huge swath of the city, they’re required to be constantly on the
move -- think of the “carbon footprint”! -- hoping to spot a customer willing
to wave them down in a city-approved zone.
It’s madness. And as the Food Truck Four explain in their
lawsuit, it’s unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment’s due-process clause
“protects every American’s right to pursue legitimate occupations, subject only
to regulations that are rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.”
For good measure, the plaintiffs threw in another Fourteenth Amendment claim,
as well as an argument that the regulations violate the Texas
constitution to boot.
Staring down the business end of a civil-rights lawsuit, on April 19, the El Paso City Council began
to backpedal. It passed, on first reading, an elimination of the rent-seeking
regs. Assuming it passes on second reading, food trucks will soon roll,
unabated, throughout the Sun City.
It appears that El Paso isn’t
interested in being the next New
London. The small city in the northeast corner of Long
Island Sound became the most despised municipality in America nearly six years ago. That’s
when the U.S. Supreme Court approved the city’s “redevelopment” attack on homeowners
in its Fort Trumbull neighborhood. The decision
sparked a nationwide backlash against the use of eminent domain to benefit
private interests. New London and the State of Connecticut remain unapologetic about
their thuggery -- while the houses were demolished, the redevelopment imploded
in predictable fashion -- but many state and local governments have adopted
measures that protect land owners from rapacious “public-private partnerships.”
It was not lost on El Paso city councilors
that the same public-interest foundation that
litigated the New London case represents Yvonne, Maria, Martha, and
Michelle. The Institute for Justice unites legal acumen with marketing genius --
by making millions of homeowners aware of what happened to the residents of Fort Trumbull,
it is directly responsible for rolling back eminent domain run amok. Win or
lose its case against El Paso, the Institute would have surely given the city a
black eye to rival New London’s.
The Republic would be richer -- and less litigious -- if for-profit
firms really did view economic freedom the way the Left’s lazy caricature would
have us believe. Until then, gutsy clients and fearless attorneys will be
needed to ensure that micromanaging pols and bully businesses aren’t permitted
to curtail the blessings of competition.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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