Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Keith Burris


The food-truck fiasco: Let freedom ring



Mayor Mike Collins’ legislative proposal to heap burdensome regulation on downtown food trucks, apparently to protect city restaurant owners from competition, hit a brick wall last week.

About 90 people came to a City Council hearing, most to express their view that such regulation is a bad idea. This included restaurants owners who didn’t want, or need, protection.

A great many young people feel strongly about this issue. They feel the city needs youth, hipness, and creativity, and this is a move to stifle such impulses.

That is one reason to question the legislation. Toledo needs its youth movement.

But I talked to a friend neither young nor hip who said: “Dumb. Just dumb. The mayor is out of touch.”

Now dumb can mean many things. But, for me, in this instance, it means politically careless and unfocused.

The Collins administration seems to me guilty of not getting its ducks in a row of late. The mayor seems to often shoot from the hip. And that causes confusion and acrimony. His idea of bringing the law school downtown, for example, is good. But he didn’t pave the way with UT, with council, or anyone. And that hurt the idea, instead of advancing it.

His realization that smokers cost the city money is simply empirical. But it is a huge leap from encouraging quitting, or even banning smoking outside Government Center, to banishing all smokers from future employment with the city. I think any mayor ought to dangle carrots to encourage city employees to live healthier lives. But a ban on employees who smoke may involve prolonged legal tangles and open the mayor and the city to derision. It also starts us down a mighty slippery slope. If we ban smokers, do we ban drinkers, consumers of trans-fats, and all non-triathletes from city employment?

Caffeine is bad for the heart and nervous system. Should we banish caffeine drinkers?

For me, the presumption should always be on the side of free people and free markets. And the determinate on government intrusion is this: Is this the only reasonable path to a better outcome?

I think you let freedom rule unless the government stepping in is the only way forward.

Freedom of speech and thought are near absolute. You can’t yell fire in a crowed theater when there is no fire. You cannot slander. Beyond these limits, speech is wide open.

This rule should be less absolute in the market. We regulate food and drugs for safety, because the market won’t do that on its own. We require everyone to pay into Social Security, for there will be no security in old age if we leave it to the open market.

But in most aspects of life, especially commercial life, competition benefits the social good. This is true in cars, in sports, in computers, in social media, in the news media. Businesses that need protection don’t get better, or serve better. And government protecting one business over another seldom benefits the citizen-consumer.

You need a good reason for the government to intervene in the economy. “Someone might die” is a good reason. “Someone might lose commerce” isn’t.

The Collins administration should work on fighting blight, attracting new residents, and encouraging new business, not protecting restaurants from food trucks. And the mayor needs to look before he leaps.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.

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