By Jesse Stretch | USA
The trade-off is a perception of public and consumer safety. A label that says you’re safe; a license to guarantee that a person is competent; a logbook proving experience. As a consuming American, the idea is that you’re never going to lose. You’ll never get hurt, swindled, tricked, ripped-off. The food you eat will be clean and wholesome. Your air conditioning man will be licensed and “know what he’s doing” as he crawls through your attic sporting tandem full-sleeve skull tats.
As a farmer, business owner, contractor and product producer, I am licensed and unlicensed in all sorts of fields that many of my customers and friends have never heard of or considered. I know from personal experience that barriers to growth and virtual impossibilities exist in the governmentally-instituted regulatory system that make starting or growing a small, fully compliant business almost impossible for the average working American.
Production and product costs in the agriculture field are up, with much of the rise
attributed directly to the time-intensive process of regulatory compliance. For instance, due to regulation, we must now drive two hours each way to have our cattle processed for customers, because the skilled butcher just down the road has decided that FDA inspection is a pain, and he would rather just process deer and livestock for personal consumption. He has decided that it is easier to turn down business than to comply with the FDA. We local farmers all know he’s a great butcher, but without the Federal Government’s consent, we can’t hire him to process meat for our customers.
In the age of free information transfer, where one person can communicate instantly with an entire nation of peers, the question arises: Do we always need the government to tell us what is safe and what is not? Do we need the government to tell us who to trust now that we have our friends and associates at our fingertips every hour of the day to give us reference?
The first regulatory agency in America was set up in the late 1800s to regulate the railroads. This agency was set up in part because a train could get from Point A to Point B faster than any other communication, meaning that railroad companies had the advantage of far superior information dissemination over the people. With that kind of speed and power, unethical manipulation of commerce was very possible. Thus, the Federal Government stepped in to regulate. Back in the 1800s, this made sense, and it protected small businesses and individuals from a larger manipulative entity.
From there, more than four hundred federal regulatory agencies have sprung up to protect us. They regulate your ability to own a dog, plant a tree, and buy certain foods. As many consumers are aware, purchasing and selling the formerly essential household product raw milk is now illegal in much of the United States. Not only did the federal government tell us that it’s better to pasteurize milk, they told us they’d fine and/or jail us for selling or purchasing its counterpart. There is something wrong with a system that outlaws an elemental, ancient, healthy, local food product. Raw milk is not dangerous.
Most of these regulations were devised years ago because people had no way to
communicate quickly to blow whistles on quality issues. If Farmer Joe sold a bunch of disease-ridden food which was then put on a train to New York City, the situation could escalate for days, weeks, before the word would get out. Hence, Farmer Joe faced regulation to ensure sanitation on the production end— aiding in the prevention disease outbreaks at the controllable single source and not the open multi-consumer end.
These days, however, technology gives consumer groups the ability to instantly report a
quality or service issue. One voice is no longer lost in a crowd, but can often be heard on social media or elsewhere online. Farmer Joe’s bad meat would last a day on the shelf, maybe less, and people would be wary of buying from him again. Society will govern itself in this way. Many federal food safety regulations are rendered almost pointless by this ability to communicate and establish relationships based on trust, free information, and consumer history rather than on an antiquated safeguarding oligarchy.
In all of this, we see the institution of government regulation costing money to producers
and consumers, while not delivering an adequate or necessary return on value for either party.
Over-regulation poses issues for the future of fresh business growth in America, as such
intensive and time-consuming compliance requirements stifle the ability for new ideas to reach fruition. I say fresh growth because that’s just what it is; it’s not a barrier to growth for entities with a net worth north of a few million dollars—they have the funds to hire compliance personnel and pay the fees required to grow under the watchful eye of the regulatory committees. The growth problem exists most for the small business who gets lost under the bureaucracy and can’t find daylight; the little farmer, craftsman, tradesperson—the local girl who wants to sell fresh pastries on her townhouse porch (but is shut down by food safety regulations) or the guy who has a few greenhouses and wants to peddle lettuce greens in a parking lot but can’t because he would need a location with tier three commercial zoning, the highest level of commercial zoning, just to do so.
My business is relatively simple: Farming and Landscaping. In this simplicity, however, one can find the reason why over 20 licenses and/or registration accounts are technically required for such a business to exist. Each license will cost money, take hours to complete, and many will require exams and/or yearly renewals. For a working person, maintaining twenty or more licenses can be virtually impossible—especially if the business is a startup.
There is a really old guy down the road from my farm who used to sit outside his garage
where he’d fashioned a small vegetable stand. They shut him down because of regulatory issues. He was sitting out there under a carport in his lawn chair sleeping half the day, selling tomatoes and melons that he grew in his backyard. They somehow found a way to shut that down because it was deemed a health issue.
Regulation has reached a point where the system no longer creates a safe environment for the consumer but rather projects upon the masses endless doldrums of big box stores and boring commercial multiplicities. Such intensive over-regulation overwhelms the business owner into a state of bewildering semi-compliance. The maze of rules and agencies sequesters growth, mildewing a stagnant climate of anti-creativity in which eligible and worthy business owners are forced to fudge or forego licensing information or credentials, and thereby subvert the institution of regulation itself.
Fresh growth begs simplicity, and simplicity will only come from casual civillydisobedient reformation. If everybody threw their pointless dog license papers away, the dog license would go away. If everybody started selling baked goods on the corner, the agencies would never enough have time to stop them all. I’m not advocating the complete disbanding of regulatory agencies, nor anarchy, but for small business to thrive, something has got to give.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go downtown on Sunday and buy pastries from the girl’s porch
just off Cary Street, eat fresh lettuce from a conscientious farmer, and cut open melons with an 80-year-old man in his carport? I think so.
I, for one, would like to spend less time filing paperwork and fudging truths to
bureaucracy, and more time farming and growing my business under the watchful eye of my peers—not the watchful eye of the federal and state bureaucracies. We don’t need the government to tell us who to trust, we have our friends in commerce for that now. The internet will oust a bad producer in an instant—their operation shall wither and die under the power of online public opinion. In the age of social media and abundant online information, the need for institutional regulation is fading.
To our government: There was a time when we needed your blessing on what farmer or tradesperson to trust. That is true. But this was before we could all get together and communicate instantly online. These days, thanks to the little flickering screens in our palms, we can regulate ourselves, tell our friends who they can trust, and spread our own truths instantly.
We don’t need an inspector to tell us that we can or can’t eat an old man’s produce—but