Direct regulation of economic activities of the poor

It should be noted that in today's world, among other rights, the right of economic initiative is often suppressed. Yet it is a right which is important not only for the individual but also for the common good. Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in the name of an alleged equality of everyone in society, diminishes, or in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say the creative subjectivity of the citizen. Sollicitudo 15, Pope John Paul II

You shall not distort justice; you must be impartial. You shall not take a bribe; for a bribe blinds the eyes even of the wise and twists the words even of the just. Justice and justice alone shall be your aim, that you may have life and may possess the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you. Deuteronomy 16:19-20

Economic Expoitation Index

Over-regulation of business is chasing them out of many cities. Washington DC has lost thousands of jobs through rigid enforcement of laws regarding street vendors and performers, cabs, art studios, interior decorators, and home occupations (Utne Smith 70). ). Hong Kong grows 45% of its own vegetables (even though it is one of the most densely populated cities on earth). One survey in Harlem found 1,000 lots that could become market gardens (72). Such government policies therefore are producing less employment, more illegal market operations, and yielding a situation where only big business has the economic wherewithal to deal with the regulatory system.

Besides unemployment, welfare, and inheriting a lot of money, there are two basic lawful alternatives to the problem of not having a job: one is to get a job provided by someone else, the second is to invent a job, that is, to engage in entrepreneurial activity. This latter has traditionally been a way that poor people could better their economic circumstances. The history of American business is filled with tales of this or that poor person who, perhaps starting with a peddler's cart on a street corner, built an economic empire (or even just a basic average middle class business).

This traditional micro-enterprise route to economic progress has been virtually eliminated in the modern era by the combination of business regulation, tax and credit policies, and zoning requirements. All of these add costs onto the startup -- and for a poor person starting a business, the amount of capital available (a critical factor in any business) is usually quite limited. One hundred dollars may seem like a low fee for a business license -- and it is if you are a multi-million dollar operation. But if the entire initial capital is $500, that $100 fee represents 20% of the entire capital, which is exorbitant. Getting a business license opens the door to a wide variety of other fees, permits, and etc. that may result in the non-opening of the business.

Especially egregious examples of this process are anti-peddling/anti-vending laws and the on-going enclosure of the commons. Usually driven by pressure from big retailers, in many cities street vendors have been legislated out of business or confined to weekend flea markets or swap meets and the occasional street fair. Laws regulate, and sometimes forbid, door to door sales of products. The rest stops of the interstate highway system are closed to commerce (which protects larger businesses, many of which are national chains, from small-scale competition). Food service regulations can be used to prevent people from cooking food in their homes and selling it to the public (e.g. catering, baking pies and cakes, making tamales and tacos, etc.) Contracting regulations prevent persons with construction skills from offering their services in the marketplace -- thus protecting larger businesses from small-scale competition.

Transportation regulations prevent poor people from offering their services to the public in this vital area of enterprise that could be a particularly fruitful source of economic activity for the poor. Potential opportunities in this area include (a) taxi businesses (now impossible due to licensing, certificate of need requirements, and regulation of fares), (b) delivery businesses (same problems as taxis), (c) jitney services (a type of public transportation, common in other countries, which is midway between a bus and a taxi, same problem as taxis). Increasing the amount of such transportation available helps the poor both by (a) increasing the employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, and (b) providing poor people without other alternatives additional competitive transportation alternatives. As noted in the previous section, in the 1950s and 1960s, automakers lobbied local government to eliminate public transportation in order to artificially stimulate the need for cars, a typical example of how the market is corrupted by special pleadings that hurt the poor and working classes for the benefit of the political and economic elites.

In the section on the Bible and social justice, this paper demonstrated the concern that the ancient Hebrews had for ensuring that their society maintain a place for the economic activity of the poor. Israel was blessed when they observed the laws regarding jubilee and sabbath years, and when they left grain in the fields to be gleaned by the poor. But in America, the commons is closed to the poor, and there is no field in which they can glean the wheat. The inherently superior ruling power elite's idea of economic emancipation is that all of the inherently inferior poor should work for them for minimum wages and be thankful for their generosity.