August 14 2012

Food Regulations Have Consequences

Julie Gunlock

The story of 13-year old Nathan Duszynski is a tale one might expect to see as the plot of a made-for-TV movie on one of those feel-good, chick networks like the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime TV.  His life story is a real tear-jerker; I can practically see the screenplay—young boy determined to help his disabled and recently unemployed parents uses life savings of allowances to purchase hot dog stand; story goes viral; massive lines at hot dog stand; opens more stands; national restaurant chain buys him out; boy and family living in luxury; boy never needs to work again; parents recover; boy becomes President…of the world.

Except that didn’t happen.  Instead, Nathan’s foray into the food business played out more like a horror story, and government was the villain.  Here’s what actually occurred (go ahead and grab a tissue…the reality is just as much a tear-jerker):

Nathan Duszynski, 13, was hoping to help his disabled parents get through tough times with a food cart business in July. But he told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that city official from Holland, Michigan shut it down after 10 minutes.

"Nate and I are now in a shelter," Duszynki's mother, Lynnette, told the Michigan nonprofit. "Doug [Nathan's step father]can't stay with us because he takes prescription narcotics to deal with his pain and the shelter does not allow him with those kinds of drugs."

...

Nathan said he went out to help his family by purchasing a hot dog cart with money he saved. He worked out an arrangement with a local sporting goods store, Reliable Sport, to sell hot dogs in a parking lot. The owner also offered Nathan a sales commission if he encouraged customers to rent the store's motorized bicycles.

Lynette said she spoke to an official in City Hall to make sure it was okay to set up a hot dog cart in the parking lot and they were told they did not need a permit.

But it didn't work out. Situated just across City Hall, a zoning official spotted Nathan and asked him to shut down immediately.

So, basically, instead of letting this child earn money for his family so that they can make it through some tough financial times ON THEIR OWN, we have a family torn apart, homeless and in no better financial shape than they were before.  More profoundly, 13-year-old Nathan received a life lesson: don’t try to help yourself.  The government will destroy you.  It's better not to try.  Just take your government check and shut up. It isn’t worth the trouble.

People simply must understand the consequences of these types of regulations. It's isn't just food regulations, its most regulations on small businesses which are complicated, duplicative, and many times unnecessary.  Yet, most people don't understand how difficult it is to open a business and navigate the regulatory system.  In fact, when I discuss food regulations, people often shrug and say “what can it harm?”

Well folks, small business regulations harmed Nathan and his family.  The very idea that Nathan had to spend his limited money on a bunch of permits is ludicrous (even more lidicrous is the fact that if Nathan wanted to take his cart to serve at special events, he needed to reapply for each event—a major cost each time, not to mention a massive waste of his time). And what exactly are these permits there for?  To protect people from a hot dog stand?  Are adults so incapable of making a decision about where they want to eat and whether they’ll take the risk of eating out of a food cart or a hot dog stand operated by a 13-year-old?

Government regulations designed to protect people have real consequences and do real and profound harm. Nathan is just one story.

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