“The normal mindset among U.S. officials is that prior permission should be required to sell legal goods to a willing buyer. Kids selling lemonade on the street are shut down. A Missouri man has been fined $90,000 for selling rabbits (he made about $200). In Illinois, an artisan ice cream maker is being shut down for lack of a dairy permit. Manuel Winn was arrested, handcuffed, and booked for selling magazines door-to-door without a permit. A Maryland mother of three was arrested for selling $2 phone cards without a license. Lots of municipalities are going after food trucks. A group of Louisiana monks had to go to court to win the right to sell simple wooden caskets to consumers.
If you read enough of these stories, you’ll see the targeted entrepreneurs say the same thing again and again: I just had a good idea and started a business. It never occurred to me that I needed permission. And, of course, other would-be entrepreneurs don’t ever get started because they’re too intimidated to assess and grapple with the bureaucratic hurdles. Or else the regulations are written in a way that excludes from commerce folks who are operating at a very small scale.
These needless, onerous regulations would be objectionable at any time. But they’re particularly problematic when many Americans find themselves unemployed, needful of income, and thrust into the position of doing what they can to get by. That may mean a series of garage sales, or selling fruit from a backyard tree, or making a craft to offer for sale on the street, or going door-to-door offering handyman skills, or any number of other informal businesses. We’re making things harder on the least advantaged among us, and some are forced to take more social welfare because laws prevent them from making a living on their own.
This isn’t a jeremiad against all government regulation. Should commercial airline pilots be required to have a license? Sure. Are zoning restrictions sometimes legitimate? Of course. But is society really going to suffer if lemonade vendors, casket makers and purveyors of $2 phone cards sell their wares without permission? The default should be that free citizens can engage in commerce with one another, sans any prior restraint by federal, state, or local governments. It’s time to deregulate.”
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