Government ‘service’: kicking Girl Scouts off the sidewalk

I’ve been editing newspapers long enough to have seen at least two waves of “bubble” job applicants.

Back in the late 1980s, in Arizona, I advertised some relatively low-paying, modest-benefit newspaper jobs — stuff for which we would normally have expected to receive a dozen applications. Instead, we got 50. Many resumes had been jimmied around to stress work on the student newspaper in college, maybe a part-time radio job. Once you’ve looked at a few hundred resumes you begin to easily spot gaps, omissions, euphemisms.

“OK,” I’d ask, “since ‘managing my family’s real estate holdings’ means mowing the lawn since I moved back into my parents’ basement, what have you REALLY been doing for the past couple of years?” Most would level quickly enough: they’d been day-traders or otherwise involved in the stock brokerage business, which had just undergone one of its periodic crashes.

Most had behaved as typical young folk, buying fancy cars and condos, figuring they’d be raking in those (temporary) six-figure incomes forever because they were such gifted geniuses.

It turned out Federal Reserve monetary policy and other misplaced government regulatory interventions had created false “price” signals — and false investor confidence, since it couldn’t be crooked if it was all “government regulated” — indicating you “couldn’t lose” flipping stocks, buying into IPOs, etc. Though I don’t remember the real culprits taking much of the blame, at the time. Instead, the fall guys were those usual suspects, the “greedy rich,” who “needed more regulation” by the very regulators who had been blithely assuring everybody everything was fine.

Then 2008 hit, and we started to see the same phenomenon, although this time the young geniuses found themselves suddenly unemployed — after loading up on fancy cars and condos — after figuring you “couldn’t lose” flipping real estate.

Once again, blame faulty price signals thanks to market and currency and regulatory manipulation — no more “red-lining”! — this time justified under the “good intentions” of wanting to make home ownership possible for minorities, the poor, everybody, without forcing them to go through that old-fashioned nonsense of sticking with a boring steady job, saving up a hefty down payment, etc.

In both cases, had all these suddenly-down-on-their luck high flyers been benefitting from “wealth they didn’t deserve”? Maybe — though the real world seems to have self-corrected fairly quickly, except where government interventions continue to block a real correction. (Try renting office space in a vacant building now controlled by the “FDIC.”)

The one thing we know for sure is that a system under which some government bureaucrat figures out what everyone “deserves” to be paid is bound to be more pernicious, more enervating and stultifying and poverty-generating than the free market. The Soviet Union proved that.

Talented doctors who are told they only “deserve” to be paid the same as drywall installers will quickly flee to economies where they can earn whatever patients are willing to pay. (That’s why communist states build fences to keep their people IN.) What do you think that does to the quality of your medical care? Perhaps you don’t care, so long as it’s “fair,” it promotes “economic justice,” and no doctor enjoys “undeserved wealth.” Frankly, I’d rather have the best guy or gal possible wielding that scalpel.

These days, they seem to have pried open the sarcophagi of a lot of the old Marxists, pumped them full of Herbert West’s rejuvenation serum, and set them loose to recycle their old harangues. A recent favorite is “Late last year the Washington politicians passed out big tax cuts to all their rich country club Republican buddies, and now they’re trying to pay for it all on the backs of the working man by destroying collective bargaining.”

By the numbers: 1) The Democrat-controlled Congress and the Democratic White House last December combined to pass a tax bill leaving tax rates precisely where they were, except that the death tax went up from a temporary zero rate to 30 percent, which is a tax HIKE. They SHOULD have slashed taxes if they wanted an economic recovery, but they didn’t.

2) In Wisconsin, Tea-Party-supported Gov. Scott Walker now seeks to get his out-of-control state budget in hand by eliminating the foolish recent innovation of allowing state employees to collectively bargain for pensions and benefits. (Arbitrators award hikes based simply on whether “government can get the money.” Sure they can, since tax rates know no limit.) Gov. Walker would still allow collective bargaining for wages — which is dumb.

3) The “working men and women on whose backs” the states now attempt to balance their budgets are $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000 state and municipal bureaucrats who work in air-conditioned offices, enjoying health benefits, pensions and paid vacation that long-suffering taxpayers would swoon in ecstasy to receive. They now whine that “We don’t want more, we just want to keep what we’ve got” … after decades of double-digit pay and benefit hikes, enacted by their wholly owned legislative puppets in the face of warnings that all this stuff would prove unsustainable.

But debating whether they should receive better pay and benefits than the taxpayers who support them misses the larger issue, which is whether most such jobs should exist at all.

Randolph Scott, not the movie actor but the zoning commissioner of the city of Savannah, Georgia, recently decided the tradition of allowing Girl Scouts to sell cookies on the sidewalk in from of the historic Savannah home of Juliette Low, the woman who founded the Girl Scouts almost a century ago, violated the city zoning code.

The Girl Scouts were kicked off the sidewalk.

To which Jan McKinney, who heads product sales for the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, responded by telling the press that getting kicked off the sidewalk taught the girls an important lesson: “We try to teach them that in business you have to adjust to things that happen, adapt to the market and follow the law,” she said. “It’s a real-world experience.”

Teaching them what — that if you want to succeed as young entrepreneurs today you have to either have to stay out of sight of the G-men, entering the gray, Internet economy, or else export your jobs to Taiwan, Vietnam or Guatemala?

Last week, the Savannah Board of Aldermen voted an exemption from the zoning code to allow the Girl Scout’s sidewalk cookie sales to resume.

That was the wrong thing to do. More useful would have been to say, “America surged to become the economic powerhouse of the world from about 1810 to 1960, give or take a few decades, during most of which time we had NO zoning code enforcement officers going around imposing costs on our businessmen, and thus (eventually — it takes awhile) driving them out of business. If this is the result of having a zoning code and a whole scorpion’s nest full of ‘enforcement officers,’ let’s see how much we can prune down our municipal budget by repealing the whole shebang, laying off every one of these suckers.”

Next week: Till “Everybody has just what they need.”

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