Especially in tough economic times, onerous rules for starting a small business are a burden on the worst off among us
In a small municipality on the shores of Lake Michigan, a town council passed a law earlier this summer that is especially objectionable in tough economic times. "It is in the interest of public safety and welfare to require certain individuals to obtain a license before conducting solicitations or making sales transactions throughout the town," the Burns Harbor, Indiana, ordinance states. Put simply, if you aren't a resident, you'll need an expensive permit to make or sell anything, whether on the street, door-to-door, or in a brick-and-mortar business inside town.
What's required for a permit?
One hundred dollars, getting fingerprinted by police, and a criminal background check. "If the applicant has been convicted of any misdemeanor or felony, the permit application may be rejected," the law states. And if you're granted a 30 day permit? Once it expires, you're ineligible to apply again for six whole months.
This is the sort of story that makes me furious. Burns Harbor officials insist their law is necessary to protect public safety, but from 2001 to 2009, an eight year stretch before the law was passed, the town had zero murders, zero rapes, and three robberies. Its police presence is 4.36 officers per 1,000 residents, compared to an average of 1.87 officers per 1,000 residents elsewhere in Indiana. Meanwhile, there are high unemployment rates and tens of thousands of people on food stamps in the surrounding Lake Michigan region. Few firms are hiring. People are looking for a way to make a living. Some of them want to sell stuff. Why burden them? Why force folks to be fingerprinted like a criminal if they want to hawk goods at a local flea market? Why exclude from commerce people convicted of a mere misdemeanor? In a global economy, why should a traveling salesman be allowed to sell his goods only at 6 month intervals inside a town of 1,156 people?