Fast-food freedom

August 1, 2008

Why do we crazy libertarians get all jazzed up over things like Los Angeles imposing a one-year moratorium on the construction of fast-food restaurants? asks Ezra Klein:

Rather, the city council is doing something incredibly ordinary: Deciding what sort of establishment it will allow to open within its jurisdiction. This is called zoning, and not to scare anyone, but it happens all the time. Try and open a new bar in DC sometime and see how far you get. Try to bring some live music to Mt. Pleasant street and tell me if you get approval from the proper authorities. City governments have long used the preferences of residents or the perceived needs of the community to discriminate when licensing businesses for construction.

And the theme is picked up and amplified by Matthew Yglesias:

Ezra’s damn right about this. Go to pretty much any populated part of the United States, buy some land, and try to build something on it and you’ll find that there are a lot of land-use restrictions in place. Some of these rules are good, some of them are bad (on balance I’d say we’re over-regulated in this regard) but they’re really all-pervasive. Then along comes the LA City Council to say you can’t open a new fast food restaurant in South LA and libertarians and Will Saletan are freaking out. It’s about freedom, damnit.

Well, it is on some level, but this is hardly unique. Is Saletan for abolishing liquor license regulations? Maybe he is. I don’t think that’s a crazy position but that would be a radical change in the way we do business. Banning fast food outlets, by contrast, is very much in line with the status quo. And though it might shock Saletan to hear about it, there are lots of upscale towns and neighborhoods all across the country that do the same thing.

This is sort of like arguing against making such a big deal about cancer because, after all, so much heart disease and strokes and other deadly diseases are so common. What’s the fuss? Why make it such a big deal?

But the fact that all this regulating has become so common as to be unremarkable is reason to question any new rule that comes along, not a reason to meekly accept it. Yglesias almost backs into this realization when he writes that “on balance, I’d say we’re over-regulated in this regard,” so maybe there’s hope for him. It is about freedom, dammit.

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5 Responses to “Fast-food freedom”

  1. Mitchell Says:

    I think a lot of it has to do with picking your battles. The eminent domain issue is still outstanding and I’m not sure defending McDonalds is really the best way to use your time. Why not liquor licenses? Or almost anything else. This area doesn’t seem particularly unique in be over regulated.

  2. tim zank Says:

    Zoning was intended to control the parcels of real estate in a particular area to conform new buildings/businesses to the existing buildings, traffic patterns and neighborhoods’ “physical” structure, not the dietary preferences of a handfull of council members.

  3. Harl Delos Says:

    I thought it was stupid when Fort Wayne tried to prevent people from opening gas stations. Yeah, a lot of them aren’t in business any more, but an abandoned gas station is a small building on a busy intersection with lots of parking – a perfect incubator for a new business.

    Houston has the most sensible zoning laws of any major city in the US.

  4. Larry Morris Says:

    “Houston has the most sensible zoning laws of any major city in the US.”
    After living there for more than 10 years, I can attest to that – there are no zoning laws in Houston. They leave it up to very powerful neighborhood associations. So, whereas they may have solved the zoning issues, they have created a much worse monster, … a neighborhood association that can take your house if you paint it a “non approved” color. Not sure which is worse, …

  5. Leo Morris Says:

    Mitch: The trouble is that while we’re “picking our battles,” they just roll merrily along. While we debate which outrage to mobilize over, they’ve gone and committed 100 more.


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