It’s hot. People are gathered in Washington D.C., sweating over monuments supposed to remind us that we live in a country where men and women have the freedom to build happy lives through hard work. You have an idea: “I should sell water to these thirsty tourists to make some extra money. I don’t have the money for a storefront– but bottled water is cheap. Gotta start somewhere.” And like that, you’re in business. What an American success story, except for the part I forgot to mention… The part where authorities demand papers, cuff you and bar you from future attempts to make money selling legal products until you pay a government extortion fee.
That’s exactly what happened to three D.C. teenagers recently as they attempted to stay out of trouble while making a few extra bucks.
Dr. Anthony Bradley, a professor at Kings College and author of “Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development,” told the teens’story in a recent an opinion piece for The Washington Examiner. And then he made a really good point: Stupid laws are making poor people in the United States poorer.
As Bradley wrote:
It is reasonable that people should comply with the law, but the question is whether the law reasonable. Is it reasonable to require teens to have a vending permit? In order to sell water on the National Mall, they would have to obtain a sidewalk vending permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for $1,200. They would also need an additional $476 for a Class A Vending License. To make matters worse, any teens selling water who are the primary license holders would have to pay a $55 fee for any of their friends to work with them. How are teenagers from low-income families supposed to do this?
But it gets worse. Even if three young teenagers could come up with the nearly $2,000 it takes to simply be allowed to sell water, they still couldn’t do it. The D.C. Department of Consumer Affairs has recently put a hold on issuing street vending licenses, and there’s a waitlist for new licenses with no indication of when licensing will resume.
And so every step of the way, government is working against these teenagers, not for them.
For the aforementioned teens, or anyone lacking the money to pay all of the government’s licensing fees, it’s either flout the law and make a buck or go look for a handout someplace. Unfortunately for many folks looking at getting arrested anyway, flouting the law to sell water doesn’t come with the sort of return that makes the risk worthwhile. So they really flout the law, selling dangerous street drugs or turning to other more serious crimes.
Wouldn’t it be much better to make it easier for people work their ways into legitimate business opportunities without having first to pay government entities for the opportunity. After all, once business picks up, they’ll eventually pay more than their share of government fees and taxes.
Meanwhile, kids who get busted selling water are more likely than not to sour on the system entirely. And if it’s enough to turn them toward hard crime, they’ll be forever burdens on the economy.