Posts tagged ‘IJ’

A Small Bit of Good News -- DC Circuits Slaps Down the IRS

The creeping regulatory / corporate state gets a setback

Faulting the IRS for attempting to “unilaterally expand its authority,” the D.C. Circuit today affirmed a district court decision tossing out the agency’s tax-preparer licensing program. Under the program, all paid tax-return preparers, hitherto unregulated, were required to pass a certification exam, pay annual fees to the agency, and complete 15 hours of continuing education each year.

The program, of course, had been backed by the major national tax-return preparers, chiefly as a way of driving up compliance costs for smaller rivals and pushing home-based “kitchen table” preparers out of business. Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, lead counsel to the tax preparers challenging the program,called the decision “a major victory for tax preparers—and taxpayers—nationwide.”

The licensing program was not only a classic example of corporate cronyism, but also of agency overreach. IRS relied on an 1884 statute empowering it to “regulate the practice of representatives or persons before [it].” Prior to 2011, IRS had never claimed that the statute gave it authority to regulate preparers. Indeed, in 2005, an IRS official testified that preparers fell outside of the law’s reach.

Perhaps a first indication that the Obama Administration strategy to pack the DC Circuit with Obama appointees may not necessarily protect his executive overreach.

PS - you gotta love the IJ.

PPS - The IRS justified its actions under "an obscure 1884 statute governing the representatives of Civil War soldiers seeking compensation for dead horses"

Government Regulation and Incumbent Business Protection

Scratch "consumer" protection laws and you will almost always find the laws are really aimed a protecting incumbent businesses and traditional business models.  This time from France:

To the surprise of virtually everyone in France, the government has just passed a law requiring car services like Uber to wait 15 minutes before picking up passengers. The bill is designed to help regular taxi drivers, who feel threatened by recently-introduced companies like Uber, SnapCar and LeCab. Cabbies in the Gallic nation require formidable time and expense to get their permits and see the new services -- which lack such onerous requirements -- as direct competitors.

This is the interesting political ground where the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party have a lot of overlap.  That is why the Chamber of Commerce, which represents all these incumbent businesses, is working with both parties to keep the cozy corporatists in power against challenges from the Left and Right.  If you are a business owner, eschew the Chamber and join the NFIB and support the IJ.

My Current Favorite Non-Profit

The Institute for Justice, or IJ.  The do great work.  What the ACLU should have been if it wasn't founded by Stalinists.  Check out this aggravating example:

Imagine you own a million-dollar piece of property free and clear, but then the federal government and local law enforcement agents announce that they are going to take it from you, not compensate you one dime, and then use the money they get from selling your land to pad their budgets—all this even though you have never so much as been accused of a crime, let alone convicted of one.”

That is the nightmare Russ Caswell and his family is now facing in Tewksbury, Mass., where they stand to lose the family-operated motel they have owned for two generations.

The most contentious civil forfeiture fight in the nation will be the subject of a week-long trial starting Monday, November 5, 2012, in Boston. Throughout the week, the Institute for Justice, which represents the property owners in the case, will expose the ugly practice of civil forfeiture—where law enforcement agencies can pad their budgets by taking property from innocent owners who have never been convicted or even charged with a crime.

 

A Small Victory

A small victory against the relentless march of the state regulators and licensors

Eyebrow threading to remove facial hair, a practice which has ancient roots in Eastern countries such as India and Iran, is gaining popularity around the country.

And threaders can now operate freely in the state without a cosmetology license after an October court settlement determined that the Arizona Board of Cosmetology would no longer regulate the trade.

The consent judgment resulted from a lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court by five threaders, including Gutierrez.

The threaders argued that the Board of Cosmetology was merely trying to help more traditional hair removal outfits remove a source of low-cost competition.  The threaders were represented by the IJ, who do great work for economic liberty

Awesome

Why Can't Chuck Get His Business Off the Ground?  Go watch, from the IJ  (the IJ is what the ACLU should have been if they were not founded by Stalinists).

Licensing is Anti-Consumer (An Ongoing Series)

This week's episode -- Monk's making simple caskets to support themselves must desist because Louisiana has detailed licensing laws to protect current funeral homes from just this type of low-cost competition. This is what the monks would have to do to sell what is basically a nice wooden box

Louisiana law purports to require that anyone who is going to sell a casket has to jump through all same regulatory hoops as a full-fledged mortuary operation that embalms bodies. See, selling "funeral merchandise" (including caskets) means you are a "funeral director." And to be a "funeral director," you must be approved for "good moral character and temperate habits" by a funeral-related government entity [of course, that's in Louisiana, but still], complete 30 semester hours at college, apprentice with a funeral director for a year, pay an application fee, and pass an exam. But that's not all. If you want your facility to sell caskets, it's got to qualify as a facility for funeral directing, including a showroom and "embalming facilities for the sanitation, disinfection, and preparation of a human body."

The monks are being represented by the IJ (what the ACLU should have been if it weren't for its Stalinist founders) which hopes to get to the Supreme Court.  If I were one of the monks (wildly unlikely as that is) I might be tempted to sell them as "human-sized wood boxes" rather than coffins and see where that got me.

I've Got To Finish A Book Project

I am working on a submission (outline and several chapters) for a book prize that is due December 31, so I may not be posting much over the next week.  The contest is for a novel that promotes the principals of freedom, capitalism, and individual responsibility in the context of a novel (hopefully without 120-page John Galt radio speeches). 

My project is one I have been tinkering with for a while, an update of the Marshall Jevons economist mysteries from the 1980's.  If you are not familiar with this series, Marshall Jevons was a pseudonym for a couple of economists who wrote several murder mysteries that included a number of expositions on how economics apply to everyday life.  Kind of Agatha Christie meets Freakonomics.  I found the first book, Murder at the Margin, to be disappointing, but the second book called the Fatal Equilibrium was pretty good.  I think the latter was a better book because the setting was university life, and the murder revolved around a tenure committee decision, topics the authors could write about closer to their experience.  The books take a pro-free-market point of view (which already makes them unique) and it is certainly unusual to have the solution to a murder turn on how search costs affect pricing variability.

Anyway, for some time, I have been toying with a concept for a young adult book in roughly the same tradition.  I think the Jevons novels are a good indicator of how a novel can teach some simple economics concepts, but certainly the protagonist as fusty stamp-collecting Harvard professor would need to be modified to engage young adults. 

My new novel (or series of novels, if things go well) revolves around a character named Adam Smith.  Adam is the son of a self-made immigrant and heir to a nearly billion dollar fortune.  At the age of twenty, he rejects his family and inheritance in a wave of sixties rebellion, joins a commune, and changes his name to the unfortunate "Moonbeam."  After several years, he sours on commune life, put himself through graduate school in economics, and eventually reclaims his family fortune.  Today, he leads two lives:  Adam Smith, eccentric billionaire, owner of penthouses and fast cars, and leader of a foundation [modeled after the IJ]; and Professor Moonbeam, aging hippie high school economics teacher who drives a VW beetle and appears to live in a trailer park.  There is a murder, of course, and the fun begins when three of his high school students start to suspect that their economics teacher may have a second life.  As you might expect, the kids help him solve the murder while he teaches them lessons about life and economics.  The trick is to keep the book light and fun rather than pedantic, but since one business model in my last novel revolved around harvesting coins in fountains, I think I can do it.

Anyway, wish me luck and I will be back in force come the new year. 

$5000 A Day Fine for Dancing

Congrats Pinal County, which border phoenix to the southeast, for pushing government intrusiveness to a new level:

At the conclusion of what Pinal County officials said was the longest
code compliance hearing in the county's history, San Tan Flat owner
Dale Bell was ordered to pay an initial $5,000 fine Tuesday for
customers dancing in the open-air portion of the restaurant. He will
also be fined $5,000 for every day people dance at his restaurant
starting Feb. 17.

Bell, who does not advertise or encourage dancing at San Tan Flat,
acknowledges that people do dance on weekend nights and it's usually
parents with children or senior couples. He has even put up signs
discouraging it.

   "It's impossible to ... ensure no one breaks out in the waltz or two step," Bell said....

County Attorney Seymour Gruber said dancing outside violates a
county code because it's not happening in an enclosed area with walls
and a roof. The county wants Bell to stop the dancing, limit it to
inside only or get a special use permit which requires public input
from neighboring property owners.

We wouldn't want people dancing without wall or a roof, would we?  I mean, there is probably a 0.5% chance they could get rained on or something.  If you are thinking this is some grizzled biker joint or a shack of a place, you are wrong.  Its actually one year old and quite nice - check out the picture.  For those of you in other parts of the country, where the idea of a family honky-tonk may seem odd, this concept is very popular in Arizona.

So why is this government harassment going on?  Well I have gotten better at decoding these things, and my sense is that it started with noise complaints, which many commercial establishments get:

There have been no complaints against San Tan Flat for dancing,
but both the county and Bell have received noise complaints about the
live music. The restaurant has not been cited for noise because the
volume has been within acceptable levels.

So the county got noise complaints, and my guess is that one of the complainers had some strong political pull (or else they would never have pursued it this far).  Particularly since this is not a population-dense area, and there is little housing directly nearby (see Google satellite map, just click on satellite in the upper right to see all the surrounding, uh, dirt).  I mean it's right next to an airport, for god sakes.   Thus, wanting to satisfy what could only be a high-profile complainer, the county moved in and pulled out the rubber glove and gave the restaurant a good probing.  And, since it is impossible to be in compliance with every stupid ordinance on the books (many conflict, so that you can't be in compliance) the city found something they thought they could make stick.  The only issue I can't decode is whether they are trying to use this as a bargaining chip to get operating hour or noise level changes, or if they are using it a s a club to close the place down.  It probably depends mostly on how much juice the key complainer has who is driving this.

The good news is that the IJ is on the case.

PS-  If you really want to get pissed off, read some of the other economic liberty cases being handled right now by the IJ.  Many of them are great examples of a point I have made for years, that state licensing of professions is more about protecting the professions from competition than they are about protecting the consumer.  If you haven't seen it, George Will had a great editorial on the same topic, which includes this gem:

In New Mexico, anyone can work as an interior designer. But it
is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in
prison, to list yourself on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages as, or
to otherwise call yourself, an "interior designer" without being
certified as such. Those who favor this censoring of truthful
commercial speech are a private group that controls, using an exam
administered by a private national organization, access to that title.

This is done in the name of "professionalization," but it really
amounts to cartelization. Persons in the business limit access by
others "” competitors "” to full participation in the business.

"¦in Las
Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal "”
unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed "” to move, in
the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an
armoire, more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that
"placement of furniture" is an aspect of "space planning" and therefore
is regulated "” restricted to a "registered interior designer." Placing
furniture without a license? Heaven forfend.

Kudos to the IJ

If you are not familiar with the Institute for Justice, the IJ is like the ACLU but from an alternate universe where the ACLU was not founded by a Stalinist and actually believed in property rights.  The IJ represented Ms. Kelo in her fight against eminent domain to aid Pfizer in Connecticut, and often takes on stupid government licensing programs.  For example, the IJ is representing some folks in New Mexico who think that it will not materially harm public safety if they do interior design without a government license:

If you need a license to arrange flowers
in a vase, it stands to reason that you'd need a license to arrange
furniture in a house"”not to mention picking paint and window
treatments. Or so the state of New Mexico (along with four other
states) seems to think. To be fair, you can do interior design in New
Mexico without a license; you just can't call it interior design, or
call yourself an interior designer, which makes it hard for potential
customers to find you. Today two people who in most states would call
themselves interior designers filed a federal lawsuit objecting to the
state's protectionist censorship on First Amendment grounds.

In the past, the IJ has also fought for the right of hair braiders and casket salesmen to operate without a state license.