Mmmm … Cake
With all due respect to my colleague, Sarah, the most ridiculous regulation imposed on the food industry comes from the recent decision by the Los Angeles city government to ban new fast-food restaurants from opening in poor neighborhoods. There was an excellent piece on this regulatory nightmare written by William Saletan at Slate.com, and another for the Los Angeles Times by Joe Hicks, but I want to reiterate several of the reasons why this is such a terrible idea:
- The fast-food ban assumes that poor people can’t be trusted (and therefore have no right) to make decisions for themselves. This is paternalism at its ugliest, because it says that people’s freedom can and should be stripped from them if the majority believes their choices might prove to be unwise.
- The ban ignores the realities of these communities. As unhealthy as fast food can be, it is the most convenient, most affordable way for many people to get a meal. Even if someone in a poor community had the time to shop at a grocery store and fashion home-cooked meals, it is far more expensive to purchase fresh foods and the means to prepare them than it is to swing by a local fast-food restaurant. Especially with the escalating cost of food, families worried about day-to-day survival can’t always afford the luxury of securing the most nutritious meals.
- Fast-food restaurants provide jobs for unskilled workers. While, as Dave Chapelle’s satirical take on this issue points out, these sorts of jobs aren’t likely to end poverty, they do bring money into the community and offer a first step toward more profitable types of employment. The fewer fast-food restaurants in the community, the higher that area’s unemployment level will be.
- The ban prevents competition in the fast-food market. Los Angeles has only banned new fast food restaurants, insulating the existing businesses from competition. Not only does this alleviate some of the pressure to keep menu prices down, it also allows the existing companies to pay rock-bottom wages because workers have fewer alternative employers.
Unfortunately, as with many ill-advised government schemes, this one seems to be catching on.