Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Response to Auren Hoffman’s commentors

Posted by shannonclark on January 24, 2005

In a recent post by Auren Hoffman on his personal Blog, Summation a commentor (using the handle ‘Auren Hoffman is a prick’ so take it with a large grain of salt) discussed a (mis)quote of Auren in the local SF paper.

If I understand the gist of Auren’s misquoted quote correctly, I would have to agree with him (though he and I have somewhat different political affiliations – independent in my case leaning heavily liberal on social issues, Republican in Auren’s case).

Auren’s point is (I think) that instead of helping people get very low end, low opportunity jobs (at a very high cost for fairly minimal impact in terms of the results from various “training” programs), the city were to concentrate on helping minimize the restrictions on starting microbusinesses (which can and do grow into larger businesses). In most cities in the US it is a very complex and relatively costly process to establish a legal small businesses – especially if that business involves selling on the street (for example).

Here in Chicago, for example, to speak to cases I know about from long observation, the city has made it very difficult to legally perform music on the streets of Chicago and especially in the subways and Elevated trains of Chicago. As a result what had historically been a wonderful aspect of Chicago’s streetscape is now mostly gone, limited to a handful of “official” spots in mostly high tourist traffic areas – and highly regulated by the city at that.

Likewise countless other small, low barriet to entry businesses throughout the city have been hit with more and heavier regulation. From food carts and street peddlers hit with many, complex regulations, to used CD shops being nearly driven out of businesses, to ethnic, historic groceries and butcher’s shops also being heavily targeted by regulations and restrictions (no displaying of meats or sausages in the window or even mostly in the store out in the open – to take just one very silly IMHO case but one which has meant a severe drop in business for at least one historic butcher here in Chicago who smokes and makes his own very high quality meats and sausages).

Further examples are easy to find – the near impossibility of running an under-21 club in Chicago (whether or not drinking is allowed, the licensing for “public performances” are very expensive and complex, and trying to have mixed ages audiances a near impossibility). In short it is challenging here in Chicago for someone with even a small amount of resources, let alone next to no resources, to get started in business.

Yet at the same time it is that very process of supporting and harnessing entrepreneurial instints, the ability to find ways to eek out a profit, reinvest it, compound it, and build up businesses to perhaps any level desired which has historically been how people got out of poverty, and historically how one generation of imigrants raised the next generation of college students and taxpayers.

Consider the impact of the government of a city offering low-income residents an opportunity to take risks and try businesses that they come up with, without fear of, at least initially, needing to pay $1000’s for a peddler’s license etc. Personally I think the city as a whole would be a more vibrant and richer city.

Government strikes this bargain all the time – waiving some red tape and paperwork for small businesses and/or young businesses (OSHA requirements, Family Leave, etc).

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