America is a great country, but its greatness doesn’t come from its power or its resources. It comes from the American Dream — the idea that anyone can come up with a good idea and, through perseverance and the sweat of their brow, can make a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. This dream fuels countless entrepreneurs and has made America a beacon for hard-working people the world over.
Perhaps few occupations better exemplify the American Dream than street vending. Vending is pure entrepreneurship: A single person, out on the street, selling food, drinks, and other merchandise to their fellow citizens. And as they succeed, vendors often expand into new businesses. There are too many stories to count, for example, of food truck entrepreneurs taking the next step of launching new trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. These successes should be celebrated, nor discouraged.
Sure, food trucks mean more competition for existing restaurants. But just as food trucks compete with restaurants, restaurants compete with one another. In America, everyone understands that competition makes us better off: It makes us work harder, come up with new ideas, and offer customers better products at lower prices. Everyone understands that competition is what makes America great.
Well, almost everyone understands that. Although most businesses thrive in a competitive environment, some prefer not to do the hard work required to attract and keep customers. So when new ideas like food trucks come around, these businesses often complain of “unfair” competition and ask their friends at City Hall to legislate away the competition. In many cities, this legislation takes the form of “proximity restrictions”—laws that say food trucks cannot operate within a certain distance of their brick-and-mortar competitors.
Consumers, not politicians, should pick winner and losers in the marketplace. The genius of our system is that the government’s role is to protect health and safety, not “manage” competition. Passing anti-competitive laws for the sake of protecting certain politically-favored interests hurts not only the entrepreneurs who can no longer compete, but the public as a whole. Higher prices, fewer options and less convenience—those are just a few of the costs that protectionist laws foist upon us all.
To stifle food trucks for the benefit of restaurants isn’t just wrong, it’s unconstitutional. Courts have repeatedly held that state and local governments may not use their power to shield existing businesses from competition. And, in fact, the vast majority of courts to consider challenges to proximity restrictions have struck them down. The right to economic liberty is just that—a right—and not a privilege that officials can dole out or take away at their discretion.
Furthermore, the idea that food trucks constitute “unfair competition” is ridiculous. Sure, restaurants pay property taxes, but that’s because they have property that gives them a whole host of advantages over trucks. Having a fixed place of business allows restaurants to have things like wait staff, tables and chairs, and an expanded menu. If a restaurant runs out of an item, it can simply get more from its stockroom; a food truck, on the other hand, is simply out. And the climate control in a restaurant lets it serve customers year round, whereas the lines for food trucks can shrivel and wilt during the dead of winter. If a restaurant cannot compete with a food truck under these conditions, it has only itself to blame.
At the root of the American Dream is the idea that every person has the right to earn an honest living, to strive for something better. But that dream can survive only so long as governments do not put their thumbs on the scale in favor of the better connected and the more politically powerful. The food-truck wars are a microcosm of a larger national debate: Are we to be a nation where success is based on merit or one where success is based on political pull? With the battle lines drawn, it is now time to pick a side. The future of our country depends on it.
Robert Frommer is an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Jacob Hayutin
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Hadley Heath