Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.



December 2013

Overgovernment: Foreign Follies Edition

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

Federal, state and local governments within the United States are all prone to overgovernment, and the problem has certainly gotten worse as government has grown in recent years. But they still lack in bureaucratic prowess compared to their foreign counterparts, as evidenced in part by these two recent stories on international governmental excess.

In France, kindness is a fine-able offense. Or at least it is for bar owners who allow their customers to demonstrate consideration by bringing empty glasses back to the bar:

French officials have fined a pub in Brittany €9,000 for “undeclared labour” after a customer returned some empty glasses to the bar.

For customers at the Mamm-Kounifl concert-café in Locmiquélic, carrying drinks trays and used glasses back to the bar was a polite tradition.

But for social security agency URSAFF, it was also an infringement of labour laws because customers were acting like waiters, French local newspaper Le Télégramme reported.

Surprisingly, some commentators on the story actually sided with the government! They share the fallacious reasoning behind the law, which supposedly exists to protect labor, i.e. jobs. Doing a task that another could be paid to do, in other words, is seen as a threat to their employment. But where does one draw the line with this sort of thinking? Should I be fined for mowing my own lawn instead of hiring a lawn care service? For cleaning my own house instead of hiring a maid? Or, in the case of New Jersey, pumping my own gas? Any activity we engage in for ourselves could be performed by another, thus creating a “job.” But does pursuing employment growth in this fashion make economic sense?

Ultimately, what this comes down to is an erroneous understanding many have regarding the nature of employment. Jobs don’t exist to fulfill demand for employment. Jobs exist when something needs doing. Production is the goal and employment is a byproduct. After all, if we could produce all that we needed without working, would that not be the ideal world? Reducing productivity to increase employment thus defeats the purpose of work and makes us all unnecessarily poorer in the process.

Labor is finite, while that which can be labored over is for all practical purposes infinite. The challenge, and where governments typically fail and thereby cause unemployment, is in having a system which encourages the entrepreneurial exploration of new products and services. Innovations that enhance productivity, whether it be ATM’s, automated cashiers, or even the realization that customers can return their own empty glasses (nevermind that such hardly represents the sum total of a server’s job), are not the cause of long-term unemployment. Innovations that allow us to make more for less, or free labor from doing one task so that it may be allowed to do another instead, make us richer and should be encouraged. Discouraging innovations in order to “protect jobs” is economic backwardness.

Moving from France to Denmark, we find a case of excessive nannyism (Hat-tip: Cato@Liberty):

…scientists have now discovered that too much of the most commonly used type of cinnamon, cassia, can cause liver damage thanks to high levels of coumarin, a natural ingredient found in the spice.

…As a result, the EU has laid down guidelines for the maximum content of coumarin in foodstuffs – 50mg per kg of dough in traditional or seasonal foods that are only consumed occasionally, and 15mg per kg of dough in what it terms as everyday fine baked goods.

Last month, the Danish food authority ruled that the nation’s famous cinnamon swirls were neither traditional nor seasonal, thus limiting the quantity of cinnamon that bakers are allowed to use, placing the pastry at risk – and sparking a national outcry that could be dubbed the great Danish bake strop.

The president of the Danish Bakers’ Association, Hardy Christensen, said: “We’ve been making bread and cakes with cinnamon for 200 years. Then suddenly the government says these pastries are not traditional? I have been a baker for 43 years and never come across anything like this – it’s crazy. Using lower amounts of the spice will change the distinctive flavour and produce less tasty pastries. Normally, we do as we’re told by the government and say OK, but now it’s time to take a stand. Enough is enough.”

Anything taken in sufficient quantities can be hazardous to one’s health. This is especially true of government.