Issue 27

The Regulation Fixation

The Regulation Fixation

Rugged individualists. Mavericks. Working class capitalists. These are some of the phrases that describe one of America’s last great hopes, the small business person.

These are people with a variety of backgrounds from their race, education and national origins to their vision of the future and political beliefs. Yet they all have one thing in common – an unwavering belief in their ideas. Big ideas. Small ideas. Different ideas. Faith in their ability to manifest a dream, a vision. That’s what sets them apart. But that is also what makes them vulnerable.

Small business in America is at risk. At risk of becoming taxed and regulated into obsolescence. The irony is that the biggest enemy a small business faces today isn’t competition from other businesses or lack of qualified workers. Nor is it from inflation or the lack of quality products to sell or services to provide. Instead, it comes from bureaucrats who have never had to meet a payroll deadline. Or file unemployment paper work. Or fill in for the dishwasher who just walked out with some sort of beef with the boss.

Yet it is these very regulators both local and federal who have the power to subvert the very core of our economy by taxing and regulating small business owners into oblivion. And as it affects these owners, so does it affect their clientele. The same regulators who have the best interest of the consuming public at heart may be so overstating the obvious that we have created a sort of “nanny state” where a single person’s right to litigate is placed above the general public’s right to exercise common sense.

Certainly there is a need for controls. A free society is only as free as its least honest or enlightened citizens. There will always be a segment of any given population that will look for angles to achieve without effort, to profit without risk and to take advantage of unregulated opportunities that inherently lie in a free market place. It needs to be said that the food and beverage community is especially challenged to balance the need for control versus the freedom to create and, as such, pushes the envelope of convention. It is at the core of what makes our industry great. It is also what draws many of the unscrupulous to the industry, who challenges the constructs of our laws and the limits of acceptability.

The problem lies in the “balance”. The proper balance should allow controls to keep the population safe from charlatans and unsafe products while allowing the free market to work its unexplainable magic. The latest brouhaha regarding smoking in public places should go a long way toward illustrating my point. Whose interest was truly at the awareness of those legislators who were trying to protect the citizenry? A rhetorical question, perhaps. But to the point, should the government be regulating such matters, or do the citizens of any area deserve the opportunity to exercise their free will and allow their freedom of choice and movement to be the arbiter of this and many other debates?

There are too many examples of regulatory malpractice to vent in this writing. But the list of taxation and fees a business person is beholden to is formidable. Payroll tax, unemployment tax, workman’s comp “contributions”, insurance matching, Federal withholding money…the list goes on. Whether you crave more government intervention or less concerns me not. What I yearn for is more realistic government – government with checks and balances. (There’s that pesky little word again!). A body where grievances can be aired and articulated, where those who enforce the laws were once required to abide by them, and where fairness is not just an idea but the ideal.

This is not meant to be a treatise about taxes and/or regulation. Both are necessary components of a free society. However, our Declaration of Independence was written by people who are just like those of us in small business – rebels who ventured into uncharted territory with nothing more than fresh, new ideas and a strong work ethic to nurse the energy of their ideas into a thriving enterprise. For that matter, our entire society is built on the principles contained in the free market system. These were people who felt over-regulated and over-taxed. Remember the Boston Tea Party? They were people who felt they had no representation in the bodies that governed them. The only difference being that an ocean of water separated them from their regulators. Now there is something even more daunting to cross to get to the gist of the problem – an ocean of ideology.

An anonymous writer once said, “A fine is a tax for doing some thing wrong, and a tax is a fine for doing something right”. In our industry, both fines and taxes are too high. As consumers, we all hope that some regulation will keep us healthier and safer. But the line gets crossed quickly, and it begins to cost us all more than it should for the goods and services that we purchase. So, it is in the best interest of everyone to make sure that the government, both local and central, be responsive to its constituents’ concerns, but to use sober judgment when concocting new laws and regulations on their behalf.

Small business is the single largest employer in America, and as such is seen by some as a liquid source of income. But if that source were to dry up due to malfeasance and over confiscation we would be losing more than a sustainable revenue stream – we’d be losing the entire back bone of the free market system that we cherish. We would also lose the cornerstone of our communities. And in the end we would lose the one of the most important things this country has to offer, and which makes this country great…entrepreneurship.

Ron Samuelson

Ron Samuelson

Ron Samuelson has co-owned M’s Pub for over twenty years with business partner Ann Mellen. They also own Vivace, which will soon celebrate 20 years of operation in the Old Market. Ron’s 38 year restaurant career has spanned from Dallas and Denver to Omaha, with stints in the kitchen as well as front of house management for both corporate and locally owned concepts. He has served as President of the Omaha Restaurant Association and is a recent inductee to the Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame.


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