When Bloomberg implemented rules in New York that food chains such as Starbucks had to list the calories of their food on the menu, I was, of course, disgusted if only for the fact that the megalomaniac mayor has no right to dictate to private businesses that they engage in self-defeating advertising. (Shouldn’t they be able to plead the Fifth like the Solyndra execs?) Why doesn’t Bloomberg have the Yankees post warnings underneath player stats listing all the drugs a specific player has done or how many prostitutes he has gone with, just so parents know whom their kids should and should not emulate? When what I call the Starbucks Law was first implemented, I figured Bloomberg was acting in a typically monarchical fashion and perhaps was on a diet and didn’t want to bother googling calories, but a more sinister thought occurred to me.
Some background first: The Progressive Movement, I have read, was spearheaded by big businessmen whose profits were naturally being eroded by maturing industries’ declining margins. These businessmen correctly recognized that regulations (accounting, tax, legal, environmental, health and safety, etc.) create a need for such massive bureaucracies that huge barriers of entry emerge against upstart companies favoring the existing and larger companies who are able to meet these regulatory rules. Once the barriers exist, the big businesses can increase their margins despite increased costs because it will take that much more per unit sold for the upstart to compete with the established industry. These big businesses already have lobbying apparatuses in place, contribute to campaigns, have political relationships, and have a great-sounding story of protecting the “hapless consumer”–all tools they can use to close the door to new entrants in their otherwise competitive industries. You can see the success of these so-called Progressives’ efforts as many mature industries in America are marked by oligopolies despite the fact that the oligopolistic firms are much larger than mere industrial economies of scale would dictate. This business-government relationship is, of course, the foundation of the crony capitalism that plagues our country and destroys the credibility of the free market.
All that being said, I noticed that one large industry in the country is not totally dominated by oligopolies and still has room for the scrappy entrepreneur: the restaurant business. I had been wondering how the existing chains and the government could crack the code on this one and I concluded Bloomberg’s Starbucks Law would work perfectly. For now, it’s only the big chains that are required to mark their calories on their menus under the argument that the small guy can’t afford the compliance costs. Sounds great. Eventually, however, this will change….screwing the little guy will be viewed as a small price to pay for Saving the Children. As Michelle Obama ramped up her childhood obesity campaign, I realized the Starbucks Law might well go viral. (See how much death and destruction has been and still is being wrought as a result of Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign? These First Ladies are dan-ger-ous!!) As regulatory barriers such as menu disclaimers and strict nutritional guidelines proliferate and the field of competition shrinks, the result for the “hapless consumer” will be higher prices, lower quality and fewer choices. Thanks Big Sister.
But this is not the end of the story. Food regulations are on the agenda in a big way and I fear the cantaloupe-listeria deaths will bring us that much closer to more direct government control of the food supply. I first started keeping one ear open to the food control issue when Obama got elected and despite our myriad problems with the financial crisis and endless war, he started spouting off about food safety. I thought, what is this guy talking about? I do plenty of traveling and get sick fairly often when I’m out of the country but rarely here. Maybe because I’m used to our food and not theirs, but either way if Americans don’t get sick from American food, why mess with it? So I was watching and waiting to see how this foreshadowing developed into a full blown plot. I did not have to wait long. Last year, Congress came out with their plan to rewrite decades-old food safety laws. But how to justify all this attention on an issue that causes surprisingly little trouble in the face of so many issues that are causing a great deal of trouble? Wait for a crisis. So now I’m wondering if the cantaloupe deaths could be the 9/11-type catalyst for more government action on controlling food. I don’t think either 9/11 or the cantaloupe deaths are inside jobs, but I do believe that policy-makers lay-in-wait for events like this to implement their plans. As Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”