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Signs of the Times

I have liberal friends who can't understand why some of us are so opposed to government regulation. Of course, they say, government needs to protect the public from harm by unscrupulous businesses. The problem is that they have an idealized view of regulation -- government sees a problem, government creates a set of rules, and the problem goes away.

Only, of course, that's not what regulation really is:

Just about anything that attaches to the exterior of a building requires permits from the Buildings Department. And most sign jobs must be supervised on site by someone with a sign hanger's license, which can take several years to earn. But it is much cheaper for contractors to skip the permit process and put up the signs using unlicensed workers, and they know that city inspectors are too busy to enforce the law.
Of course, the law is allegedly designed to protect the public -- despite the fact that even the sign hanger's union -- and I can hardly say that with a straight face -- can't cite a single instance in New York City of someone being injured by a falling sign.

Nor, I suppose, could they explain how one can get a driver's license in a few hours, but getting a sign hanger's license can take a few years. Except, of course, for the obvious: that the rules are not designed to protect the public. They're designed to protect the union. If it's too hard to get a license, then most people won't. And if they won't, then the union becomes the only legal source of labor.

And of course the city benefits, as petty bureaucrats get to throw their weight around and the city gets to raise money:

Ms. Fink said the company received a summons in June 2001 for putting up the awning without a permit.

Valley Management's president, Tulio Camino, said that the company, which helps property owners solve problems with the Buildings Department, received a permit for the awning yesterday.

Ms. Fink said that what the company received yesterday was an approval, which is needed to apply for a permit.

"This is not enough to satisfy the violation," she said. "They have to obtain the permit, and they don't have that yet."

Fines, paperwork, and more paperwork: the triple crown of government.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 5, 2002 4:31 AM.

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