Posts tagged ‘RV’

This Minimum Wage Conversation is Not a Hypothetical -- I Have It All The Time

Don Boudreax writes:

Here’s a project for all unemployed young people – say, ages 18 through 21 – in America today.  Go to a nearby supermarket or restaurant or lawn-care company or pet store and ask for a job at the minimum wage.  If you are denied, offer to work for $4.00 per hour.  The owner or manager will almost surely decline, saying that it’s against the law.

“Would you like to hire me at $4.00?” you ask.

“Well yes I would” is the answer you’re likely to get in reply.

“So, hire me at that wage.  I’m an adult, I’m sober, and I have no mental issues.  I’m willing to work for $4.00 per hour.”

“You don’t get it, kid.  I can’t hire you at that wage.  I’ll get fined, or worse.  Go away.”

“Ok, I’ll leave.  But no one – including you – will hire me at $7.25 per hour.  What am I supposed to do?”

“Look kid.  That’s your problem.  I’m sorry.  I don’t make the laws, but I gotta follow them.  Go away now.”

I know that this is a realistic scenario because I have this conversation with employees all the time.  Except in my case, applicants are generally not 18 years old but 70 years old.

A bit of background:  My company operates campground and other recreation areas mainly using retired people who live on-site in their own RV's.  Few of my 400+ employees are under 65 and several are over 90.

There are several reasons this conversation occurs:

  • As my employees get older, and perhaps sicker with various disabilities, their work slows down to the point that it falls under our productivity expectations.  Employees may come to me saying they want to stay busy but they know they don't work very fast but they would be happy to work for $5 or $4 an hour if they could just keep this job they love.  (There is a Federal law that allows waiving of minimum wages for disability situations.  We tried it -- once.  The paperwork was daunting and the approval came 7 months after the application -- 2 months after the seasonal employee had already gone home for the year).
  • Many people like to stay busy but face wage caps where they begin to lose their Social Security.  They want to keep their total income under the wage cap.  We try to create some jobs that require fewer hours so they can get their wages down that way, but in many cases we have a limited number of on-site living spots and a fixed amount of work such that each person occupying a living spot must do a certain amount of work to make sure it all gets done.  So at some point we can't give them fewer hours, and then they will ask for lower pay.

I frequently have to tell people I simply cannot pay them less.  They ask if they can sign a paper saying they want to be paid less, and I tell them something like "no, the law assumes you are a gullible rube and that I am evil and infinitely powerful so that if you sign a paper, it just means I forced you to do it."  Which is all true, that is exactly the logic of the law.

People look at me funny sometimes when I say the minimum wage law limits employee rights by putting a floor on what they may charge for their labor.  This is an odd way of putting it for them, because minimum wage laws are generally explained in the oppressor-oppressed model, but it makes perfect sense from my experience.

Regulatory Suffocation

Taxes are usually the heart of the discussion when people talk about the bad business climate in California.  And certainly their taxes are just insanely high.  But for folks like me, an even bigger barrier is the regulatory environment. We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion.    In Ventura County, for example, we have  a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.

A big reason for this is the regulation in California and in Ventura County.    We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck.  We added a 500 gallon fuel tank for fueling boats (to eliminate the unsafe practice of driving in and out of town with about 100 5-gallon fuel containers) and it took over 3-years of trekking to multiple county and state offices to get it permitted.  We thus despaired of trying to get a campground expansion approved.   Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million and Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up.  And this is even before we fart with crazy California break laws and other nuttiness.

I have often told folks that I would love to see a liberal defender of all this regulatory overreach try to construct and open a restaurant in Ventura County.  It would be fascinating to watch.   (All this musing was touched off by this article on underground restaurants that try to sidestep this regulatory cost and mess).  We are a service business and California still has a lot of money, so we still operate in California.  But I continue to wonder why any company, like a manufacturer, remains in California.  Sell there yes, but produce anything you can out of state and ship it in.  Even as a service business we do a bit of this, no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California.  Even our labor force is partially "imported", as we hire folks who live in their RV's to come from all over the country to live and work at our campgrounds.

As I read the other day, if Silicon Valley were not already in California, would anyone in their right mind put it there?

Postscript:  One other story:  California's regulatory environment has caused a real shift in the culture as well.  At one location that we are closing this year, a local attorney has regular dinner meetings with groups of our employees to brainstorm among the group to see if they can come up with something to sue us over.

Large Hassles and Small from the Government

I often write about the large hassles we have to deal with from the government.  Here is an example of the myriad of smaller ones:

We have our campground workers in Florida living in their RV on site.  As one of the amenities we offer them, we have a 120 gallon propane tank on each employee RV site they can use for their cooking and heating.   Unfortunately, the State of Florida has banned connecting propane tanks of this size to a "non-stationary" dwelling.  We were grandfathered for a while, but now we have to get rid of all the tanks.  Our employees can still have little 5 gallon tanks, but instead of having a truck come by once a year to fill all the large tanks, each of our employees must now drive 20 miles into town dozens of times to fill their little 5 gallon tanks.

Thanks state of Florida -- getting rid of a 120 gallon tank at the price of about a thousand extra miles of driving and two or three full man-days of extra time sure seems like a smart legislative choice to me.

New American Nomads (Revisited)

Over five years ago, I wrote this article about retirees in RV's who have become the new American nomads.  Many of these folks work for my company each season, getting wages and a camping site in exchange for taking care of campgrounds. This is often called work camping.

A reader sent me this video from the NY Times discussing the same phenomenon  (here is the print article).  The only difference is these folks work for the government, which means that unlike at private companies, they don't get paid.  I find it kind of fascinating that the NY Times thinks it's a wonderful innovation that "cash-strapped state governments" help balance the budget on the backs of free labor from older people.  Can you imagine what the headlines would be if all the facts were changed, but the entity was a manufacturing company rather than a state park?  It would have been torches and pitchforks  (it is illegal except in narrow cases for private companies to accept free labor -- the government of course exempts itself from this requirement, as it does from much of labor law).

I actually think my article was better.  The way work campers tend to disperse over the summer and then congregate over the winter in a couple of gathering spots (Colorado River in AZ, South Texas, Florida) reminds me a lot of the plains Indian tribes.  And the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle when the world wants you to have a permanent address are interesting, and there are whole business models being crafted to solve these problems.

Anyway, our company hires nearly 500 of these folks every year, and are huge supporters of this lifestyle (and we pay!)   If you are interested, check out our websites above and sign up for our job newsletter.

Because, You Know, People Are All Exactly the Same and Need the Exact Same Things

The Arizona Republic the other day had this headline which certainly caught me attention:

Report: 35% of Arizona jobs  'bad'

I can sympathize.  I have had jobs that were boring and unrewarding.  My last couple of Fortune 50 corporate jobs, while nominally cool on paper, were hugely frustrating.  But it seems this particular "report" had different criteria for "bad" jobs:

The new report calls 35 percent of jobs "bad" because they pay less
than $17 an hour, or $34,000 a year, and offer no insurance or
retirement plans. In a typical state, only 30 percent of the jobs are
considered "bad."

Here is the heart of these studies:  A bunch of middle class people sit around and try to decide what jobs they would be willing to accept and which ones they would not.  Any job that they would not accept is a "bad" job, despite the fact that $12 or $14 an hour might be very good pay for someone with no skills, despite the fact that it makes no consideration of a person's circumstances (e.g. single, married, 2nd job, teenager, etc), and despite the fact that $34,000 would probably put a person in the top 20th  percentile of global wages.  I made a similar point vis a vis jobs in the third world.

Just so I can't be accused of cherry-picking, I will use my own company as an example.  We have a about 80 employees in Arizona, about 70 of which are paid less than $10 an hour and none of whom have a retirement plan or insurance.  All of my jobs in Arizona are included in their count of "bad jobs."  And you know what?  We have a waiting list of over 200 names of people who would take another of these jobs tomorrow if I had one to offer.  That's because my employees are not middle-class academics.   Most are older people who already have a health plan, who don't need a retirement plan (because they have already retired) and who just want a fun job in a nice location where they can live in their RV. 

This has to be one of the most utterly pointless studies of all time.  Sure, $14 an hour would probably suck as a 45-year-old college grad with 2 kids.  But it would be a windfall to a 16-year-old new immigrant with few skills and no English.  The only thing that would be more pointless would be to try to compare states - which they also do:

About 22 percent of Arizona jobs are considered "good" because they pay
at least $17 and offer benefits. That is less than the typical state,
which has 25 percent "good" jobs. The rest of the jobs are in between
because they offer some benefits.

Since cost of living is totally comparable between Phoenix and Manhattan, then using a fixed wage rate to compare states makes complete sense.  By the way, by the study's definition, my job, which is usually awesome, is not "good" because I have no health plan.  In fact, in this study, a $40,000 job with a health plan is ranked as good while a $400,000 job with no health plan is not good.  Yeah, that makes sense.

Arizona Business Death Penalty Enacted

This Tuesday, Arizona's death penalty goes into effect for businesses that knowingly hire workers who have not been licensed to work by the US Government.  Employers must use the e-Verify system the Federal government has in place to confirm which human beings are allowed by the federal government to work in this country and which people businesses are not allowed to employ.  Businesses that don't face loss of their business license (in itself a bit of government permission to perform consensual commerce I should not have to obtain).

There are any number of ironies in this law:

  • The Arizona government has resisted applying the same tight standards to receipt of government benefits, meaning the state is more comfortable with immigrants seeking government handouts than gainful employment.
  • The state of Arizona resists asking for any sort of ID from voters.  This means that the official position of the state of Arizona is that it is less concerned about illegal immigrants voting and receiving benefits than it is about making sure these immigrants don't support themselves by working.  This is exactly the opposite of what a sane proposal would look like. (and here)
  • In the past, we have used Arizona drivers licenses to verify citizenship.  By implementing this law, the Arizona Government has said that an Arizona driver's license is not sufficient proof of citizenship.  Unable to maintain the integrity of their own system (e.g. the drivers license system) the state has effectively thrown up its hands and dumped the problem on employers
  • The e-verify system, which the law requires businesses use, currently disappears in 11 months.
  • The law requires that the e-Verify system be used for both current and new employees.  It is, however, illegal under federal law to use the e-Verify system on current employees.
  • In fact, the e-Verify system may only be used within 3 days of hire -- use it earlier or later, and one is violating the law.  In a particular bit of comedy, it is illegal to use the e-Verify system to vet people in the hiring process.  The government wants you to entirely complete the expensive hiring process before you find out the person is illegal to hire.
  • There are apparently no new penalties for hiring illegal immigrants at your house (since there is no business license to lose).  State legislators did not want to personally lose access to low-cost house cleaning and landscaping help.  We're legislators for God sakes -- we aren't supposed to pay the cost of our dumb laws!

I have criticized the AZ Republic a lot, but they have pretty comprehensive coverage on this new law here and here.

Update:  Typical of the government, the e-Verify registration site is down right now.

Update #2:  It appears Arizona is taking a page from California's book.  California often passes regulations that it hopes businesses will follow nationally rather than go through the expense of creating different products or product packaging for California vs. the other states.  Arizona may be doing something of the same thing, since the terms of use for e-Verify require that if a business uses e-Verify, it must use if for all employees.  Therefore, a business that has any employees in Arizona is technically required to use this system for all employees nationwide.

Update #3:  By the way, I guess I have never made my interest in this issue clear.  We do not hire any illegal immigrants.  Since most of our positions require employees to live on site in their own RV, it is seldom an issue since the average illegal immigrant does not own an RV.  We have always done all of our I-9 homework, even though the government stopped auditing I-9's about 8 years ago.  We have in fact been asked about five times by foreigners to hire them under the table without having the licenses and papers they need from the US government -- all of them have been Canadian.

People Without a Country

I have written a number of times about the growing ranks of RVers who have completely abandoned a permanent address and spend their entire life on the road.  I know these folks because I hire about 400 of them every summer to run our campgrounds and recreational facilities.  It is a fascinating subculture, that in some ways mirrors the habits of a great nomadic tribe that roams all over the country but comes together in a few camps to meet and interact in the winter (e.g. Colorado River between Yuma and Quartzite).  The numbers are large:

The Census says more than 105,000 Americans live full-time in RVs,
boats or vans, though one RV group says the number is more like half a
million. Because of their nomadic ways, pinning down their number with
any certainty is difficult.

The AP has an article about how difficult it is becoming for some of these folks to vote, since a number of states are beginning to require a permanent physical address  (most of these folks have PO Boxes run by companies that forward their mail).

A total of 286 people who live full-time in their recreational vehicles
were dropped from the voter rolls in one Tennessee county over the past
two years because they did not have a genuine home address, only a
mailbox. That has left them unable to vote in national or local
elections....

But some elections officials say that voters should have a real
connection to the place where they are casting ballots, and that RVers
are registering in certain states simply to avoid taxes. Some of them
rarely, if ever, set foot in those states.

I guess they need a real connection to their state, kind of like, say, Hillary Clinton had to New York when she ran for the Senate there.  I know that the immediate reaction from many of you may be that this is
somehow weird and, being weird, it is OK to lock them out of voting.
But I can attest these folks are all quite normal people who are
seduced by the ability to live anywhere they want, on the spur of the
moment, and who revel in being able to simplify their life enough to
fit all their worldly goods into an RV and hit the road.

This part is total BS:

David Ellis, the former Bradley County Election Commission director who
started removing full-time RVers, said they have no connection to the
area and are simply "dodging their responsibility to pay their fair
share" of taxes.

RVers pay taxes in the states in which they work, not in their home state  (just like everyone else, by the way).  RVers, who rent their living site, pay the same property taxes (ie zero) that any other renter pays.

For the record, none of my folks have reported a problem.  However, these problems are just going to get worse.  Crackdowns both on illegal immigration and hypothesized terrorism are making more difficult to complete any number of basic tasks, like banking, without a permanent physical address.

What if the Wage Isn't Required for Living?

For those who are new to my blog, I run recreation sites like campgrounds, mostly with retired people as labor.  Retired people love these jobs, because they are looking for a nice place to live for the summer in their RV.  Often they are willing to work just for their site and utilities, though as a private entity I must pay them minimum wage as well (when they work for the government, they don't get paid).  We sometimes get into odd situations -- for example, because of a disability payment or Social Security limits, it is not unusual I have employees that ask me if I could not pay them or pay them below minimum wage, and I have to tell them no (minimum wage is absolutely required, even if the worker begs to be paid less).

This relationship works out well.  The retired persons bring conscientious and low-cost management to the campgrounds.  Our employees, who usually are living comfortably off their retirement savings or pension, get a few extra bucks and a nice place to live for the summer.  These folks may work a bit slow, but I can afford that at $6 an hour.

But what happens when a state like Maryland, because it's got its blood up against Wal-Mart, passes a $11.30 "living" wage?  A number of problems result.  First, a camping night generally consumes, on average, about an hour of labor.  At $6 an hour with 22% burden for payroll taxes and workers comp, this totals to $7.32  per night of camping in labor.  At $11.30 an hour, this totals $13.79 per night of camping.  Most of our campsites are tent camping sites and more primitive natural campgrounds (see here) and a typical price for a night of camping is $16.  This is a very low price for camping when compared to large RV parks, and makes our sites particularly popular with lower income people.  The Marlyland minimum wage would add at least $6.50 to this price, or increase prices by 41% in one swoop.  And this is before considering second order cost increases in other purchased goods and utilities due to the minimum wage increase.

The other problem is one I would have thought so obvious that it is amazing to me that no one seems to talk about it -- not everyone earning minimum wage is trying to live on it.  Certainly people new to the work force are one example, as they are often willing to trade lower initial wages for training and experience and a work record and other valuable but non-quantifiable benefits.  In my case, while I am perfectly happy to tolerate lower productivity from older, retired workers at $6 an hour (the average age of my employees is over 70), when wages are forced arbitrarily to over $11, then I have to think about changing my business model, substituting younger workers for older folks.  As any economist would predict, lower productivity workers get pushed out of the market.

For more on this topic, I discussed four case studies in my business dealing with the minimum wage.

Privatizing Public Recreation

A bit over five years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece in our local paper calling for further privatization of public recreation.  The editorial was in response to a proposal for a large bond issue to rebuild recreation infrastructure.  I argued that the state should instead be focusing on attracting private investment.  Not only was there more money for recreation in private hands than public, but I sensed that private funds would more likely be invested in facilities the public really wanted, rather than goofy politically correct projects.  Further, private operators could operate recreation facilities much less expensively, in part because they are not tied to ridiculous public pay scales, pension plans, and job classifications.

Soon after, I had a business broker call me and ask me if I wanted to put my money (such that it was) and time where my mouth was.  After a lot of twists and turns, I ended up the owner of a recreation concession company.  In a recreation concession, a private operator pays the government rent in exchange for the ability to charge visitor fees and run the recreation facility for profit.  In most cases, our company can operate a property and make a profit on fees lower than the government must charge just to break even.

My business, Recreation Resource Management, has prospered since then.  And as I have gotten deeper into public recreation, what I have learned has only confirmed what I wrote in that editorial.  I have seen that when the government runs recreation facilities, it almost never spends enough money on capital maintenance and refurbishment.  The reason seems to be that legislators, given the choice, would much rather spend $X on a shiny new facility they can publicize to their constituents than spend $X maintaining facilities that already exist.  I laugh when I here progressives argue that private industry is too short-term focused and only the government invests for the long-term.  In practice, I find exactly the opposite is true.  Think about hotels, or gas stations, or grocery stores.  Private businesses understand that every 15-20 years, they need to practically rebuild existing infrastructure from scratch to keep them fresh for customers.  This kind of reinvestment almost never happens in public recreation.

Except this week!

After years of building up our business, we just completed a project with California State Parks that is what I have always wanted to achieve with the company.  At McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, California State Parks had an aging concession store and an outdated section of the campground that it really did not have the money to rehabilitate (by the way, this is an absolutely beautiful park -- I highly recommend it).  We crafted a two-part lease with the state which eventually led to us investing over a million dollars in the park:  In phase one, we built a new concession store (old store on left, our new store on right):

Park_storeexterior000  Store3

In phase two, just complete, we took an old tent-camping loop with no utilities and added 24 new cabins.  These cabins not only refurbish an aging and dated section of the campground, but they also add new amenities to the park to attract visitors who may not own an RV and who don't want to sleep in a tent.  In addition, since they are insulated and heated, these cabins will extend the camping season -- in fact, we already have a number of reservations for Thanksgiving, a time when no one would have wanted to tent camp here.

Cabin1    Cabin_inside2

Its a  win-win-win, where  we make money, the state gets lease revenues
from us that exceed their previous camping revenues, and the public
gets new amenities without any taxes or public spending.

So, in answer to the question I so often get, "why does a libertarian run a company that works with the government?"  Now you know why.  I will admit that from time to time I find myself on the losing end of libertarian-intellectual-purity debates because I choose this path rather than, say, living in a cabin in the wilderness and manufacturing rifle barrels for a living.  *Shrug*

Postscript:  One lesson I have also learned is that state governments are not always a monolith.  Texas and Florida, for example, while being beloved of libertarians for having no state income tax, can be horribly bureaucratic in certain areas (e.g. sales tax reporting and vehicle registrations).  California, on the other hand, which in many ways is one of the worst states to do business in, actually has what is probably the most innovative and business-friendly state parks organization in the country.  Go figure.

PS#2:  By the way, the cabins shown are actually modular buildings, built here in Phoenix by Cavco, and shipped to the site.  The classy interior work was done my by maintenance supervisor.

Whoa, I am Part of "Big Recreation"

All these years of writing about climate change, and I always have claimed that I was not in the pay of any interested industry groups.  Well, I guess I lied.  It appears "Big Recreation" is lobbying against greenhouse gas controls.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said: 

"The
recreation industry's true threats come not from climate change --
which has always changed and will always change -- but from the
so-called global warming "˜solutions' being proposed by government
policymakers. Misguided efforts to "˜solve' global warming threaten to
damage the travel and recreation industry and consequently threaten the
American dream."

This is probably true, though the ski resort guys don't agree.

For those who don't know, several years ago I quit both boneheaded Fortune 50 life and boneheaded startup life to run my own recreation business, where I am trying to push a vision of, and make a little money from, privatization of public recreation.  I am actually fairly well insulated from gas price shocks, though by accident rather than thought-out-in-advance strategy.  We have mainly taken over government recreation facilities where the customer base is local weekend traffic (rather than say cross-the-country-to-see-old-faithful travelers).   This is really by accident, because these facilities took less investment than the big national attractions.  As it turns out, when gas prices go up, we actually do a bit better, because people still want to camp and use their RV, but they do it 100 miles from home rather than 1000.

By the way, I am working on a skeptics primer to anthropogenic global warming, which is why blogging has been light.  If you'd be willing to read and comment on a pre-release version, email me and I will put you on the list for a pdf which will be coming in a week or so.  In the mean time, some of my previous work is here

This is Sick - Dukakis Advocates Jobs Go To White People First

Many of you will know that a big impetus for the original minimum wage laws in this country were a racist effort by unions (almost exclusively made up of white workers at the time) to protect white jobs from competition by low-skilled blacks.  [note:  This is not the only impetus, however.  Many of the original minimum wage supporters were not racist at all.  However, a large number of the original supporters of the legislation liked it in part because it was seen as sheltering higher skilled white workers from black competition, particularly in northern states experiencing substantial migration of black workers from the deep south]

This week, in the New York Times of all places, Michael Dukakis and Daniel Mitchell return to these same racist roots to justify a substantial hike in the minimum wage.  Their logic is that it will protect white workers from competition from immigrant (read: Mexican) labor:

But if we want to reduce illegal immigration, it makes sense to reduce the
abundance of extremely low-paying jobs that fuels it. If we raise the minimum
wage, it's possible some low-end jobs may be lost; but more Americans would also
be willing to work in such jobs, thereby denying them to people who aren't
supposed to be here in the first place

By the way, note that we finally have prominent liberal voices who will acknowledge that raising the minimum wage reduces the number of jobs.  Also note that while the authors try to narrow their focus to illegal immigrants, no such narrowing of effect would occur in real life:  All low skilled people, legal or illegal in their immigration status, would lose jobs.  But for the authors this is OK as long as more brown people than white people lose their jobs.  I mean really, that's what they are saying:  We like this law because it will preferentially put low-skill people, particularly brown people, out of work.  If Rush Limbaugh had said the same thing, there would be a freaking firestorm, but there's the good old NYT lending their editorial page to this sick stuff.  Marginal Revolution has more comments along the same lines.

I am sick of the condescension and arrogance that comes with statements like theirs that Americans won't work for the minimum wage.  That's ridiculous, because many do, and have good reason to.

Take my company.  A number of my workers are paid minimum wage. Am I the great Satan? Why do my employees accept it?  Because 99% of my workers are over the age of 70 -- they work slower and are less productive, but I like them because they are reliable.  There's no way anyone is going to pay them $15 an hour to run a campground -- for that price, someone younger and faster will be hired, but at or near minimum wage they are great.  And they are generally happy to start at minimum wage (plus a place to park their RV for the summer).  In fact, I have more discussions with employees trying to get paid less (conflicts with social security and retirement benefits and disability payments) than I have people asking for more. 

Granted, my situation is fairly unique.  But Michael Dukakis in his infinite wisdom thinks no one under any circumstances should be allowed to accept less than $8 an hour for his labor.  What does he know about campgrounds or my employees?  Nothing, but he is going to try to override my and my employees' decision-making if he can.  Because he knows better. 

Maybe Mr. Dukakis can write a note to all my older, slower employees after the new minimum wage passes and explain to them why they should be happier without a job camp-hosting (which most of them love to do, probably more than you like your job) than having to accept a wage that Mr. Dukakis thinks to be too low. 

Continue reading ‘This is Sick - Dukakis Advocates Jobs Go To White People First’ »

Soloman Ammendment Upheld

I must say I was not at all surprised that the Solomon amendment (requiring private universities that accept federal funds to also accept military recruiters) was upheld by the Supreme Court.  I predicted months ago that the left had made its bed on this issue with its strong support of Title IX.

Various law school faculties argued in the case that the Solomon Amendment unconstitutionally violated their rights to freedom of association (by taking away their choice of who can and cannot recruit on campus) and of speech (by forcing the university to support speech, such as military recruiting pitches, that it does not agree with).  I must say that I am both sympathetic and unsympathetic to their argument.  Sympathetic, because there are in fact free speech and association issues here.  The majority opinion notwithstanding, its impossible to make a razor-sharp distinction between prohibitions on "conduct" and prohibitions on expression.  I can't accept Robert's blanket statement that "unlike a parade organizer's choice of parade contingents, a law
school's decision to allow recruiters on campus is not inherently
expressive."  What if, say, Al Qaeda wants to set up a booth?  My accepting their booth would sure as hell be a form of expression, one that I am sure the Right would blast me for. 

I do understand that there is money involved, and the fatuous answer is that "well, they can just turn down federal funds."  Bullshit.  Like it or not (and I don't) the feds have made themselves so ubiquitous, particularly in certain research areas where they have crowded out all private funding, that it is unrealistic to tell them to take a hike.  Though I must say that it is interesting to see the left, which built this huge federal machine, hoist on their own petard.  Besides, the majority opinion said that the funding tie-in was not necessary to pass constitutional muster -- that the government had the power to just straight out compel private universities to accept military recruiters.

However, mostly I am unsympathetic.  Why?  Because these very same ivy league and faculty intellectuals have felt free in the past to step all over the free speech and association rights of the rest of us in similar ways.  As George Will asked in recent column, it would be fascinating to see what percentage of these same people who brought this suit in turn vehemently support, say, McCain-Feingold?  Or, public funding of election campaigns. 

As a business person, this ship sailed years ago.  Freedom of association no longer applies to business people.  The reason?  Well, freedom of association implies the reverse right of not associating with anyone you choose.  But there are phone-book-sized bodies of legislation today with detailed regulations telling me all the people and circumstances in which I cannot choose whom I associate with, or don't associate with (via employment decisions, for example).  For example, my business employs RV'ers who live full-time on the road and form a large transient labor force.  I have tons of applications every year from Canadian and Mexican citizens who would like to work for me, but I cannot hire them.  On the other side of the coin, I have had to actually go to court from time to time to justify why I chose not to hire or to fire someone who is a woman, or older, or handicapped.

And forced speech with which I don't agree?  My company has to, by law, maintain bulletin boards full of posters, messages, statements, etc. that I don't necessarily agree with but are legally required to post on my property as communication to workers.  And these bulletin boards have to be made a bit larger every year.  I don't have to accept any federal money to be absolutely required, at the penalty of heavy fines, to post these communications.

I would be a bit more enthusiastic in my support for these law faculty if I didn't suspect that they have been the very people out in the forefront of trashing my first amendment rights as a business person.

Postscript: By the way, is this even a problem anyway?  At Harvard Business School, the largest recruiters eschewed campus altogether, and conducted all their interviews at offsite hotels.  I would think the military could pretty easily work around these law schools prohibitions. 

Welcome New Readers

Bureaucracies Never Die

A while back, I lamented all the work it takes in some states to get a liquor license.  Most liquor license laws stem back to the emergence from prohibition, when states wanted to purge organized crime from the liquor business.  What the heck, then, are they trying to do today, other than limit competition for incumbents, which is the typical role of licensing?  Before I go on, I can't help quoting Milton Friedman again about liscencing of all sorts:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Anyway, here in Arizona, it takes a load of paperwork even to change the manager of a licensed facility (even regulation-happy California does not require this).  For each manager, a multi-page application, personal history, proof of training, and fingerprint cards (yes, really) have to be submitted, and an FBI background check has to be completed (to make sure they never worked for Al Capone, I guess).

Today, I got my new managers application back from the license bureaucracy a second time for corrections.  This time, here are the two errors they found:

  • For the year when the manager was full time RVing (that means living the nomadic life with no permanent home, roaming the country in his RV) he didn't show a permanent address.  Yes, we explained his lifestyle then, but the form requires a permanent address for the last five years and can't be processed without it
  • For a period of time when the manager was unemployed, he did not fill in his own home address where it asked for his employer's address

That's it - after sitting in their hands for weeks. After already returning the application to me before with another flaw, and never mentioning these flaws.  No phone call to get the information, just rejected out of hand, requiring the whole process start over again. 

After dealing with these folks for years, it is absolutely clear to me that they have totally lost sight of what the original mission of their organization might have been, and have substituted the mission "uncompromisingly ensure the rigorous compliance with all forms and processes adopted by this organization in the past".

Welcome Business Blog Awards

If you are coming from the "Best Business Blog" poll, welcome  (if you are a regular reader, you can vote for Coyote Blog here).  Here are some examples of our business blogging:

Real-life small business experiences:  Buying a company; Outsourcing to Your CustomersWorking with the Department of LaborA Primer on Workers CompDealing with Sales TaxesServices and Brands

Economics:  Taxes and Class Warfare; The Harvard MBA indicatorMessed-up Pensions

Capitalist Philosophy: 60 Second Refutation of Socialism, While Sitting at the Beach;   Respecting Individual Decision-Making

Libertarian political commentary:  Post election wrap-up; Thoughts on KyotoFisking the NEA

Frustration with runaway torts:  Jackpot Litigation; Coyote vs. ACMEPlenty More Here

Camping (my business):  New American nomads; This RV is just wrong

Attempts at humor:  Replacements for Dan Rather; My Manhood vs. the Pocket Door

Extending Occam's Razor: Meyer's Law

ACME Products:  Instant Girl; Ultimatum Gun; Earthquake Pills

Seasonal Business and Unemployment

Most of the campgrounds and recreational facilities our company runs are seasonal, meaning that they are only open from late-Spring to early-Fall.  Many are at high altitude, and are under 10+ feet of snow this time of year, so that they couldn't be kept open even if there was any customer demand.

The problem with this business model is that it tends to saddle us with a huge unemployment tax bill.  For those that don't know how unemployment taxes work -- and I certainly didn't before I got into this -- each time someone files for unemployment, the business is sent a notification.  If the person was fired for cause, or quit when work was available, and the business can prove it to the state, then the person is either denied unemployment or your business is at least not hit with the cost. 

In any other case, the person will get unemployment, and your business "experience" account is hit for your proportional share of that person's payments -- if you provided them with 100% of their employment the last couple of years then you get 100% of the cost.  Each year your tax rate (a percent of wages) is reset based on your experience account - so more unemployment claims by your ex-employees drives higher tax rates.

Even before recent problems I will describe in a moment, I have always felt that unemployment tax systems unfairly punish seasonal businesses.  Unlike at another company where a person might think they are getting a permanent job, then get laid off, my employees join in March and accept the job knowing that the job ends in September.

Well, I could live with that problem- we get hit with a month or two of unemployment until folks find another job.  Unfortunately, we now have a much worse problem, particularly in California (of course). 

Many of the people we hire are full-time RVers, meaning that they no longer have a permanent home, but roam about the country all year in their RV (I wrote about this trend here).  They work for us in the summer, and then many of them vacation all winter in places like Arizona and Mexico.  Unfortunately, many of these folks, particularly Californians, are filing for unemployment all winter while they play.

Now state rules, including those in California, require that folks applying for unemployment be looking for work, and so certify on a regular basis to the state.  However, a number of our folks are, I hate to say, lying about this.  I know of at least one pair who are on California unemployment and are not even in the country right now.  As a result, in California in 2005, I will be paying nearly 7% of wages in unemployment taxes, and the state of California will be paying in additional money from other sources, to help fund these people's winter vacations.

This really, really is irritating me, and I don't know what to do about it.  I have called the state of California on several occasions, but as long as the employee says they are looking for work, the state can't, or won't, do anything about it.  Some really annoying person at the state unemployment office told me that it was my fault, that my business should learn to plan better and this is the cost I pay for messing with people's lives by laying them off. 

Unfortunately, this "the business is evil, the employee is always right" attitude permeates nearly every state labor-related agency I have ever dealt with.  About a year ago I fired an employee for chasing a customer around with a baseball bat -- I even had a letter from the customer testifying to the whole sorry story -- and the state employment department refused to certify that the employee was fired for cause and our experience account got hit with all of the unemployment payments for this individual.

Welcome Weblog Award Voters

Welcome!  Thanks to Elise Bauer for ways to make this post sticky in TypePad.  Please, have a look around.  Here are some examples of what I do here:

Real-life small business experiences:  Buying a companyWorking with the Department of Labor

Economics:  Taxes and Class WarfareThe Harvard MBA indicator

Libertarian political commentary:  Post election wrap-upThougts on Kyoto

Frustration with runaway torts:  Jackpot Litigation; Coyote vs. ACME

Camping (my business):  New American nomadsThis RV is just wrong

Attempts at humor:  Replacements for Dan RatherMeyer's Law

ACME Products:  Instant Girl; Ultimatum Gun; Earthquake Pills

Enjoy.  And, don't forget to support small blogs by voting in the "best of the rest" category -- you can go vote here.  Coyote Blog (hint, hint) is in the middle of the list.

RV Sales Surge

Good news for our business (I run a campground management company), the AP reports via our Arizona Republic that RV sales continue to surge, despite high gas prices.

RV sales are definitely riding the front end of the demographic wave, as new retirees look for more flexibility and mobility in their retirement years.   RV businesses are also benefiting from a post 9/11 reluctance to travel overseas or vacation at high-profile resorts or cities that might be targets.  I wrote on some of these trends in my post "the New American Nomads".

New American Nomads

Every year, between November and January, tens of thousands of modern nomads descend on the lower Colorado River.Spread out from Yuma to Lake Havasu City, but with their center in the normally small town of Quartzite Arizona, RVers will join together for a month or two in the Arizona desert.  Barren fields alont Interstate 10, totally desolate and empty for 9 months of the year, suddenly become a huge encampment.

One of the little talked about trends within the larger story of the aging of America and the growing population of retired people is the substantial number of people who have given up the traditional notion of a fixed home and neighborhood and headed for the open road. While some still own a home, and travel for many months of the year, an increasing number have sold their home, bought an RV, and live on the road -- with absolutely no attachment to any fixed location. They may spend a day or several months in any one location, but most tend to drift north during the summer and back south for the winter.  These are not people who take their RV out on vacation -- these are people who live on the road 365 days a year.

For reasons of weather and tradition, while you can find RVers in the summer months in every state, in the winter months a large number will converge on Quartzite. Friendships will be renewed. Business will be transacted. Jobs for the summer months will be solicited. A thousand and one vendors will pitch a tent in the desert to sell their wares. These gatherings remind me of how the old western trading posts may have looked during the winter, surrounded by wintering Indians and trappers. The only difference today is that most of the nomads are Caucasian, and many of the trading posts, in the form of Casinos, are run by the Indians.

Some of these new nomads are able to completely retire and live off their savings. Others need to work to bring in a bit of cash, or at least to pay for a place to park and hook up their RV to utilities. In our business, we hire over 400 of these folks a year, usually working the summer months in exchange for a free site for the RV and some money for relaxing in the winter. RVers are generally comfortable with fairly modest pay, but they won't stand still for very long if they don't like the job or their boss or their co-workers. After all, they all have wheels on their houses and can leave with little notice.

As you might imagine, in this Federalist country we live in where most government services occur at the state level, this nomadic lifestyle can lead to confusion. If you spend the entire year traveling around the country, where is your voting precinct? Where do friends send you mail? How do you get bills? Where is your bank? In which state do you pay taxes? If you think you have trouble getting W-2's out to your employees, trying tracking down 400 nomads with no permanent address!

To a large extent, technology has helped solve a number of these problems over the last decade. Cell phones provide telephone service nearly everywhere in the country. DirecTV does the same for television. With a national ISP like EarthLink or AOL, email doesn't care where you RV is parked "“ it will get to you.

In addition, a whole cottage industry has arisen to serve the needs of full-time RVers. Despite advances in technology, most people still need an address for the mail to go, and the IRS still is kindof fussy about having a mailing address for folks. So, entrepreneurs, mainly in Texas and Florida, have created huge PO box operations to serve RVers, with flexible options for holding or forwarding mail. Full-time RVers, living 365 days in their vehicle, have demanded and gotten larger and more elaborate RV's from manufacturers, up to and including RV's built on bus frames. And, new, more elaborate and upscale RV parks are being built to accommodate the more affluent new RVers.

Other people, including, predictably, the government, have not caught up with this trend. For example, many RVers are living on retirement and social security payments. Most state revenue departments have laws in place that if you are a resident of that state for some number of days, then you have to pay income taxes on earnings, even retirement pay or investment earnings, in proportion to the time spent in the state. These laws are mainly put in place to snare some incremental taxes from wealthy athletes and traveling sales people, but they can can hurt RVers.

An RVer who is totally honest about the states they were a resident in during a year might end up having to fill out five, six, or more state income tax returns. No one wants to do that, especially for small sums, so very very few people observe these tax laws. In fact, that is why PO Box drops are in Texas and Florida, because neither have state income taxes. Their pension and investment and social security checks go to those states, and no one has to be any the wiser about what other states they may have parked their RV in for a while.

There are a number of places to get more information about full-time RVing. Web sites and magazines line the Roaming Times and Trailer Life cater to full-time RVers. Working RVers can find information about work camping jobs and camp hosting as well as the whole workamping lifestyle.  Finally, look for good places to camp at goRVing.com, at ReserveUSA, or of course at my company's directory of forest service campgrounds.

Hello Kitty RV

Readers may or may not know that our company runs campgrounds, mostly on public lands.  I must say, though, despite running hundreds of campgrounds, I have never seen this.  It just looks....wrong.

Hellokitty_rv Hellokitty_rv2

More here on Gizmodo, one of my favorite sites. If you are not reading Gizmodo, particularly if you have a Y chromosome, you should be.