Tag Archives: new york

Friday Regulation Roundup

Some of the stranger governmental goings-on I’ve dug up recently:

-It is illegal to deface milk cartons in Massachusetts. The punishment is a $10 fine.

-If you aren’t quite sure about the definition of “children’s product,” a proposed regulation would clear that up. Here’s a small sampling: “A determination of whether a product is a ‘children’s product’ will be based on consideration of the four specified statutory factors as further described in the discussion and examples provided in this interpretative rule.”

-The federal government has an Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

-The government spends $23m per year on the National Agricultural Library.

-Wondering what the prevailing consensus is surrounding trailer homes? Check out the government’s Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee.

-Stimulus money is being used to replace peoples’ mailboxes – in some cases against their will.

-Eat your vegetables: The federal government has a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Seasteaders take note: the federal government has an Outer Continental Shelf Policy Committee.

-$110,000 in stimulus money was spent on an industrial-grade, automated pizza oven.

-It is illegal for a 9th grader to have a mustache in Binghamton, New York.

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Why Prince Fielder Will Never Be a Yankee

A junior high school in Wisconsin is holding a bratwurst fry today. They’re raising money to fund a school-wide trip to a Milwaukee Brewers game next month. Sounds like a lot of fun.

This, of course, would be illegal in New York City, where food-based fundraisers are de facto banned. Administrators worry that they contribute to child obesity.

Regulation of the Day 130: Roommates

In New York City, it is illegal for four or more unrelated people to live together. At least 15,000 New York homes openly flout the rule.

The ranks of lawless hooligans cut across lines of class and race. According to the New York Times, violators “include young actors and ponytailed post-graduates; rising and falling junior investment bankers; immigrants, legal and illegal; and trend-obsessed residents in Brooklyn neighborhoods.”

The Times also interviewed a young film star who lives with five other people. He is not related to any of them.

People break the regulation to save money on rent. Given the cost of living in New York, this is a smart and prudent way to save money. It also leaves more housing left over for others, which helps to drive down housing costs.

Even better, if enough people pool their resources, they can afford to live in a larger home in a nicer neighborhood than they could pay for alone.

The city has the good sense to rarely enforce the rule – just three times since July, according to the Times. This is good. What would be better is to repeal it. When a law is almost universally regarded as counterproductive, not only should go unenforced, it should go away.

Regulation of the Day 125: Salt

Having eliminated all crime from New York’s streets, ended homelessness, rebuilt Ground Zero, and fixed the state’s ailing public schools, New York’s state legislature has set its sights on how much salt you eat.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg already has a plan to reduce NYC residents’ salt intake by 25 percent over five years. But State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) thinks that doesn’t go nearly far enough. It only covers New York City, for starters. The rest of the state’s salt intake would remain perilously unregulated under the Bloomberg plan.

That’s why Mr. Ortiz has introduced statewide legislation that would “make it illegal for restaurants to use salt in the preparation of food. Period.

A $1,000 fine would accompany each violation.

Tom Colicchio, who owns a restaurant and has appeared on the television show Top Chef, is livid. He told the New York Daily News that “New York City is considered the restaurant capital of the world. If they banned salt, nobody would come here anymore… Anybody who wants to taste food with no salt, go to a hospital and taste that.”

He’s right; the salt ban does offend culinary decency. But there’s another angle that’s at least as important: personal responsibility.
If I want to pile on the salt, as Mayor Bloomberg famously does, that’s my right. But I also need to be liable for the consequences. If chronic salt over-consumption gives me high blood pressure and heart trouble, that’s my fault. I should pay the cost.

But that’s not how the current health care system works. We suffer from the 12-cent problem: on average, people only pay 12 cents for every dollar of health care they consume. Roughly 50 cents are picked up by the government, and insurers cover the rest.
That means people have less incentive to watch what they eat than under a more honest system. Why not rack up huge health care bills? Everyone else is paying for me. Health care on sale! 88 percent off!

Freedom cannot exist without responsibility. Decades of government encroachments in health care have taken away a lot of our responsibility for health care decisions. So it makes some sense that Mr. Ortiz would finish the job by taking away peoples’ freedom to eat what they want.

A better solution would be to have both freedom and responsibility, instead of neither. Ban the salt ban. Give people more control over their health care dollars. Let us be free. Let us be responsible. We’re all adults here. Treat us as such, Mr. Ortiz.

Regulation of the Day 119: Bake Sales

New York City’s public schools spent $18,365 per student in the 2007-2008 school year. That spending has been growing at more than double the rate of inflation over the last decade. That’s a lot of money. But since it isn’t spent very wisely, nowhere near that amount actually reaches the classroom.

Instead of firing teachers for incompetence (and sometimes worse), the district re-assigns bad teachers to “rubber rooms,” where they do nothing except receive their full salary. Maybe play Scrabble or surf the Internet. But mainly sit around and get paid.

Average teacher pay in New York City is approaching $70,000. There are about 700 teachers in rubber rooms. Assuming the rubber room teachers draw roughly average salaries, we’re talking about as much as $50 million that never makes it to the classroom from rubber rooms alone. That’s nearly $50 per student right there.

To make up for some of the money that gets lost in rubber rooms and central offices, schools often have fundraising events like bake sales.

Well, not anymore. At least not bake sales. Those are basically banned in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s Department of Education worry that bake sales contribute to child obesity.

Bake sales are technically still legal. But only approved foods can be sold. And only at approved times. And never before the end of lunch hour. And you have to keep detailed records. And so on.

Complying with all the rules is just too difficult for a school basketball team raising money for a new scoreboard, or to cover the cost of traveling to a tournament.

Anything goes after 6:00 pm, food-wise. But hardly anybody stays in school that late. PTAs are given a longer leash. But even they cannot hold more than one bake sale per month.

(Hat tip: Fran Smith)

Regulation of the Day 111: Buying Wine in New York

It is illegal for grocery stores to sell wine in the state of New York. Only liquor stores are allowed to sell the stuff.

This regulation, a relic of Prohibition, lives on because of one of the central concepts in public choice theory: diffused costs and concentrated benefits.

The benefits are concentrated in one constituency: liquor stores. Regulations give them get millions of dollars in free business. That means they have millions of reasons to lobby to keep the status quo.

Consumers, on the other hand, are hurt by the ban by the exact amount that liquor stores benefit. But that hurt is spread far and wide. No one consumer feels enough pain to hire a high-priced lobbyist to open up the market.

That means New York’s misguided restrictions on competition are likely to continue for some time. It’s hard to imagine an aggrieved shopper suing New York’s wine cartel because she has to make an extra trip to get the wine on her grocery list. Or because she pays a bit more than if she lived in a different state.

(Hat tip: Jonathan Moore)

Regulation of the Day 99: Salty New Yorkers

New York City is seeking to regulate how much salt is in peoples’ food.

Enforcement will prove difficult; most food that New Yorkers eat comes from outside the city’s jurisdiction. But the goal is to cut average salt intake by 25 percent.

Mayor Bloomberg can probably put a sizable dent in the city’s per capita salt intake all by himself. According to The New York Times, “He dumps salt on almost everything, even saltine crackers. He devours burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. He has a weakness for hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken, washing them down with a glass of merlot.”

The mayor also “likes his popcorn so salty that it burns others’ lips.”

There is a lesson to be learned here. People like salt. That’s why they eat so much of it. Suppose some of that salt is cut out of pre-packaged or processed foods. Anyone who wants to can just dump some on from a salt shaker to make up for it. This regulation is completely unenforceable.

There is also something to be said for practicing what one preaches.