“Americans Should Be Able to Sell Stuff Without a Permit”

September 1st, 2011

The Atlantic picks up on the right to earn a living, and picks on an Indiana statute that reads, “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.”

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.

So it’s in the public interest, right?

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?

And the author opens up on the crackdowns on lemonade stands and the like (which I’ve covered at some length):

The town council is abusing its authority. Alas, theirs is a common attitude. 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.

These laws are protectionist barriers to entry that exude very high safety costs (see, you like how I worked that in?). The forgotten man, the merchant who cannot, or does not obtain the permit, is punished.

But, in the absence of a change in the thought of the elected branches, would result in a change? Well not the legislature, they love these protectionist laws. Not the executive, they have an interest in enforcing stupid laws. Hrm….