Liberating My Friends “George” and “Martha”


[This article was originally published at]

My friend “George” owns a pet store. A family business. George is the “pop” and “Martha’s” the “mom,” who runs the garden center next door. Two really nice stores, in rural New York, well-stocked, clean, and they know their stuff.

George tries his best to compete against the Big Boxes on dog and cat food, but it’s tough to buy as cheap as they can. Mostly he competes on service. Old-fashioned (though he’s not that old). He’ll remember your name, he’ll thank you for your business like he means it. He’ll tell you the truth about which is the good stuff to feed (even if it’s cheaper), and which is too much filler (especially since it’s cheaper).

George sells some puppies. He’s in this business because he likes animals, and most people. Because he’s not a puppy mill, and he’s been in this business at this location for at least 25 years, he wants to sell healthy, socialized pups to good homes. Nobody had to tell him that. It’s good business. His reputation is at stake on every sale. He has the pups checked out by the vet, given all their shots, taken out of their crates to run around.

So we got talking about what it’s like to be a small business in the State of New York. The property taxes on the pet store plus Obamacare for his family cost him $30,000 per year. That’s part of his nut the moment the ball hits bottom on New Years Eve. If his gross margin were as high as 10% (highly unlikely, with the Big Box breathing down his neck), that takes the first $300,000 of pet supplies sales. Leaving nothing yet for George and Martha.

That’s not all. The County still charges to pay off the bond on a long-closed landfill (long story, but in brief the County Fathers went into the garbage business a decade ago, took in garbage from wherever, which cashflow balanced a few current budgets, then “suddenly discovered” that the landfill was full long before the bond was paid off). The village charges also for having a dumpster. Garbage is expensive.

Now comes the $15 minimum wage. George employs several young people, high schoolers or recent grads. Trains them how to manage inventory, man the register, care for the pups, kittens, birds, ferrets, reptiles and fish. Because they’re young, in transit between schools and careers (hopefully), there’s frequent turnover. At $15 an hour, it doesn’t pay to train them, for short term employment. (If they work full time, 2000 hours a year, they’d make $30,000 – more than George and Martha can count on having left for themselves at year’s end.) They’ll let them go, maybe hire one adult instead.

Then George reached into a file drawer and held up a notebook, labeled “Puppy Exercise Records 2016.” He has to record every date and time when each of his puppies is exercised, and has to keep the book for two years. It’s a law. Perhaps, it should be the “Puppy Tread Mill Act.” The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets can come around unannounced and audit the exercise logbook. They never have. George called them one day and asked how much exercise the law says each puppy must have. Ag & Markets didn’t know. So what do they audit for?

Whatever. George keeps the book, spends several full days a year – in his office, away from customers and employees, just dotting i’s and crossing t’s in the logbook, just in case some Ag & Markets inspector descends on him. Then, every two years, he throws the book into his over-taxed dumpster.

Then, I had this remarkable coincidence. Just a day or so later, a Libertarian colleague shared me a link to a talk radio program with Gary Johnson, who’s the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President.

Gary was Governor of New Mexico some years back, as a Republican. He was re-elected, and served two terms. He made his name for vetoing over 700 bills the legislature sent up for all sorts of government programs and activities he considered unnecessary, ill-conceived or wasteful. He believes that government spends too much, tries to do too much and taxes too much.

He believes he vetoed more bills than all the other governors combined.

The talk radio host asked him what was his favorite veto. Here’s what he said –

The favorite bill that I vetoed was a Republican sponsored bill. It was a dog and cat exercise bill. It was going to require pet stores to exercise their dogs and cats two hours a day, three times a week. Now, I gotta tell you, and I said this in my veto message, this is good business practice. This is where I want to buy my dogs and cats. . . . But if I sign this legislation, at some point I’m going to have to fund the dog and cat exercise police. And can’t you see it, moving forward, [it’s] not only that, but we really gotta crack down on pet stores, so we’re gonna start imprisoning . . . [we’re gonna need] a Czar, a bureaucracy . . .

See it for yourself at “Governor Gary Johnson and Pennsylvania Jillette on Penn’s Sunday School 5/15/16,” (starts at 26:38).

Here’s tangible proof that electing someone Libertarian-minded to public office really can make a practical difference to someone like my friends George and Martha. To all those struggling to eke out a living by providing honest merchandise and services to customers, but scarcely keeping ahead of governmental regulations of just about every aspect of business.

And to all of us who bear the tax burden which funds its bureaucracy.

Electing the Libertarian-minded is an overdue change of mindset about what government should do and not do. It’s not that radical, actually. It’s mainly common sense, and back to basics.


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