George Will Goes After Chicago Restaurants

In today's column "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Rent-seekers" Will attacks Chicago restaurants as rent seekers, which he defines as "private factions manipulating public power to enhance their profits." Actually, rent seeking is a broader economics term for companies obtaining excess profits by illicit means such as monopoly power, manipulation and political influence. As Will describes it, food trucks are banned from operating within 200 feet of a restaurant because of an alderman owning several restaurants. Local restaurants usually are not singled out as rent seekers (big pharma and Wall Street are more logical candidates), but here it is.

Why Will is advocating for food trucks is beyond me. Both sides seem to have a point on what is fair competition and it's not obvious that either is seeking excess profits. He gives some fair points for food trucks, but a reasonable case can be made for restaurants. I don't know the best answer, looking at both sides in a question like this seems reasonable, and a regulatory response seems appropriate. As I understand it, Will opposes this regulation; I'm not absolutely sure if this is (1) the particular analysis that was applied (he described " junk food sociology that assets without evidence, two things: that the existence of brick-and-mortar restaurants are threatened by food trucks, and that such restaurants are essential to "neighborhood stability;" or (2) this is a free market and therefore should remain unregulated.

I find his arguments unconvincing for being one-sided and wrongly argued. This is just not a good example of rent-seeking. Whether fair or not, putting constraints on food trucks does not automatically lead to excess profits (potentially that case could be make--for example if Chicago restaurants now had monopoly power for price setting, but he doesn't make it). He is blasting local government, presumably for having the audacity to regulate. This looks like hedgehog conservatism [do I dare suggest the blinders hypothesis?] to me.

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© 2016 Gary Giroux