By Adam Cassandra
The Republican Party has traditionally championed the free market and policies promoting prosperity and growth in the economy (thanks in large part to staunch fiscal conservatives within the party). But in looking at the recent debates among Republicans over farming, and specifically the “Boneta Bill,” it appears that some Republicans have lost focus when it comes to using their power in government to make it easier for people to earn a living.
To be clear, I don’t know much about farming. No one in my family has ever owned a farm, and I’ve never been a farmer. But like most people, I do know about struggling to pay bills and working to make a business successful. I’ve often thought about what kind of business I would start if I decided to go out and be my own boss one day. Having to worry if my government will even allow me to start a business is a sad reality in today’s America.
As I was reading through the initial zoning violation which sparked the “Pitchfork Protests” and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter’s legislation to amend the Right to Farm Act, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Why are there so many government restrictions for running a farm/business?”
The county’s complaint listed a number of supposedly violated ordinances which to me just seemed like unnecessary governmental interference in the marketplace.
The notice states that on July 14, 2011 the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors (BoS) approved a zoning ordinance creating the land use categories “farm sales establishment” and “farmers market,” both of which require different permits from the county. The notice also states that the BoS has previously enacted land use categories for “wayside stands,” “farmers markets,” and “community farmers markets,” each with categorical provisions defined by the county government, and each requiring government permission to engage in commerce on.
I didn’t have the pleasure of moving to Virginia until August of 2011, so I don’t know what the conversation was among BoS members about land use in July 2011. But again, I have to question why the government is intruding in private commerce in this way at all. And I have to question why so many Republicans are adamantly defending government regulation, permit requirements (taxes on business creation), and interference in the market.
One of the arguments made in the citation in defense of some of the zoning ordinances, and which the BoS probably used in discussing their passage, was that other counties are doing it too. This just had me shaking my head in disbelief. Just because every other county in Virginia makes it harder for people to earn a living, does that mean Fauquier has to as well?
In terms of Del. Lingamfelter’s proposed legislation, I’ve seen comments on the Internet complaining about how it would allow farmers to sell anything from mobile phones to store-bought ice-cream on their farms. I’m not sure that’s actually the case, but my reply is, “So what?”
The concern seems to be that farmers who engage in retail activities are getting special tax breaks and other incentives that normal retail businesses aren’t receiving on account of their owning and operating a farm. Also, there would be lots of retail activity taking place on land not zoned for such for a purpose. Instead of trying to achieve “fairness” through penalization, why not work to alleviate the tax burdens and restrictions on non-farming businesses? And why not reexamine our whole approach to zoning with an eye towards empowering individuals to start prosperous businesses instead of defending more and more government regulation? There’s a fine line between protecting private property rights and land use for business and other activities, but Republicans, at the local, state, and national level, should know that more and heavier government mandates aren’t the answer.
There’s also a fine line between protecting consumers and allowing business to prosper. But when the government is now telling potential business owners how big their parking lots need to be, what kind of light bulbs to use, how high each step has to be, that a whole series of paperwork must be filed, etc., it’s time to take a step a back and reexamine just how much the government has intruded into the market and hampered well-meaning people from making an honest living.
John Stossel made a great case against such intrusion several years ago in an ABC News 20/20 special. Stossel pointed out that all the required permits, fees, and paperwork needed to start a business in his home state of New York could take weeks or even months to process. Then there’s a whole host of regulations to deal with after that. He then traveled to Hong Kong, and even though he was an American citizen, filled out only one piece of paper and started a business the same day. Stossel also spoke with entrepreneurs from around the world who came to Hong Kong to start businesses and expressed how easy it was to prosper in the free market environment there. I haven’t attempted to start my own business in Fauquier County yet, but I doubt it’s that simple.
There are obviously nuanced details to this whole debate that deserve more attention than I can give them here, but my point is this: it is only the Republican Party that will act in the interests of promoting economic freedom in government (the Democrats aren’t interested), and we can’t allow elected Republicans to lose sight of that.
Real unemployment in America right now is over 14 percent. For young adults it’s even higher. We have more people on government assistance than at any time in American history. Republicans should be fighting to repeal existing laws impeding economic growth, and to empower people to build and expand businesses, create jobs, and prosper on their own. Rather than engaging in public name-calling and personal attacks, we need to refocus on our party’s core principles of individual liberty, limited government, and free market economics.
This article originally appeared here on Fauquier Free Citizen.