Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Local Regulation

A nice short video describing some of the trials and tribulations of an excellent Hyde Park cafe trying to navigate our city's over-regulation:

A few things struck me about this story, which only scratches the surface of troubles small businesses have in Chicago.

We talk about "regulation," but the real issue is rules vs. discretion. Regulating by simple clear rules is much better than regulation by discretion, or by rules so complex they amount to discretion. When a zoning inspector can come in after the fact and always find something wrong, it's in invitation to corruption. We are increasingly a country in which "regulation" means that regulators can tell people what to do on a whim, not one in which clear objective rules are imposed.

The ill effects of this sort of over-regulation are hard to measure, so they tend to be forgotten. We talk about tax rates, spending and laws. But how do you quantify the far more important effects of this sort of thing? It's far worse than an explicit tax, or on the books spending. But it just shows up as mysterious lack of business. We can find isolated anectdotes, but how do we add up the effects of regulatory harassment across the whole country?

I am reminded again of Greece. Pundits talk about how Greece needs its own currency so it can devalue its way to prosperity. But the kind of illness shown here in Chicago is multiplied a hundred fold there, and no exchange rate can solve it.