Monday mornings aren’t much fun, as every employed person knows. The tasks you decided not to tackle Friday afternoon are suddenly urgent, your boss is full of manic energy, your co-workers are sullen and unsympathetic, and you wonder why the president doesn’t declare Monday a national holiday.
You long for something to break the monotony. You want to smile.
That’s why the CSBJ newsroom was so delighted to get an email from James Bertini early Monday morning documenting a misguided attempt by a state regulatory agency to require that dogs wear life jackets if using a pool at an animal care facility.
And no, it wasn’t copied from the Onion, and no, it wasn’t a recycled April Fools’ joke, and no, Bertini isn’t some crank with nothing better to do than make up stuff like this. We went on the Colorado state website and found the proposed regulation.
Bertini owns a canine care facility, Earth Dog Denver, which has an outdoor in-ground swimming pool as part of its 10,000-square-foot dog park. As you can imagine, he’s not a fervent advocate of stringent government regulation.
“I don’t know where you stand politically,” he said cautiously, “but a lot of these regulations are made by people who have no familiarity with the businesses that they’re regulating, and the regulations just make it that much more difficult to do business.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard small-business owners say the same thing.
In a perfect world, the regulatory environment would be transparent, appropriate and easy to navigate. Starting a business would be easy and painless, as would growing and expanding it. Energy and hard work would be rewarded, as employers and employees concentrated on business, not regulatory paperwork.
In the real world, that’s not the case.
Starting a business of any kind is tough enough, and government’s vast apparat (the use of a word associated with the former Soviet Union is not accidental) doesn’t make it any easier. Examples of regulatory overreach are easy to find, but complaining about them is like complaining about prison food.
The problem’s not the food — the problem is the prison. You want out!
Mayor Steve Bach says he wants you out — and so do Congressman Doug Lamborn, Gov. John Hickenlooper and President Barack Obama. But none of them can deliver on their good intentions. That’s because regulations, like prisons, are meant to prevent wrongdoing and punish those who injure society.
Legislators approve well-meaning bills. Regulators are then obliged to interpret and enforce the laws thus created, spawning more bureaucracy, more tangled governmental mandates and more ways to run afoul of the law.
Regulators, like cops and prison guards, have a sour and jaundiced view of human nature. They know from experience that regulations have to be carefully drawn and rigorously enforced to protect society from the besuited predators who roam the fringes of the business world. They’re looking for the big fish, but mostly catching minnows.
That’s the way the system works.
Wall Street mega-banks cajoled lawmakers into taking restrictive regulations off the books. The newly permissive regulatory environment encouraged reckless, transiently profitable speculation that almost brought down the world financial system. And that failure of regulation led, predictably enough, to calls for even greater regulation of the banking industry, and of business in general.
To continue the prison metaphor, think of big businesses as imprisoned Mafiosi. They’re doing time, but they’ve got friends, privileges and protection.
Small businesses are the cell-fillers, like the 600,000 small-time drug dealers currently languishing in American prisons.
The big dogs have their consiglieri — powerhouse lawyers, lobbyists and supine elected officials who keep them out of trouble. The little dogs have the National Federation of Independent Business and hundreds of local chambers of commerce. They’re earnest, hardworking and largely impotent folks — just like the public defenders who valiantly represent the poor and indigent.
So even though Jim Bertini’s beef with regulators is wholly justified (does the state really need to regulate doggie swimming pools?), too bad!
“I’ve been in this business for 30 years,” said Tim Harris, who trains hunting dogs in Calhan, “and I’ve never seen a dog that couldn’t swim.”
Similarly, I’ve been in the government/journalism business for 25 years — and I’ve never seen a regulator who couldn’t regulate.