By Greg Morin
As a small business owner I have had the unique misfortune of being exposed to a wide array of state-imposed roadblocks. Whereas the individual may only be disturbed by the occasional run in with their tax bill or prohibition against engaging in activities frowned upon by our wise overlords, a business is daily confronted by a multitude of meddlesome intrusions (and I am not speaking of regulation of efficacy or safety, such standards would still exist in an insurance driven, rather than regulation driven, free market framework).
For example, my company, Seachem Laboratories, manufacturers chemical products used to maintain aquariums (i.e. to keep fish, plants and corals alive and healthy). A good portion of our products is classified by various state agriculture agencies as either feeds or fertilizers (because they help living organisms grow). Such products are subject to the same agriculture rules and regulations intended for the products aiding in the production of food or large animal husbandry. These rules not only specify a set of taxes (fees) you must pay just for the mere privilege of selling such products within a particular state (50 states, 50 different fees per every product, every year) they also specify the manner in which you may artistically design labeling, the verbiage you’re permitted to use and the manner in which you can market said products. If an ingredient is not on a particular state’s “approved” list then that means you can’t say anything about it on the label – even if it confers a competitive advantage. Therefore the product must get “dumbed down” to meet the most obtuse standards, as printing 50 variations of the same label is not economically viable (for smaller businesses). In some states a lone bureaucrat can unilaterally block the sale of a product to an entire state if they perceive said product does not provide value to the consumer – all on their own personal whim and without any appeal recourse. By way of example I actually had such a bureaucrat in Wisconsin tell me that aquatic plants in Wisconsin don’t need iron to grow (therefore justifying the blocking of sale of our iron supplement). Curious. I know legislatures can enact laws, but I didn’t know they could repeal laws of nature as well.
Now, and here’s the rub for those of you that might think even these onerous regulations ensure efficacy – no state agency actually cares whether a product does what it says. That’s right. All they care about is collecting their fee and that your description of your product conform to their narrow definition of a “proper” feed or fertilizer. Innovation and change? Sorry, not permitted. This is an unfortunate legacy of the fascist depression era agriculture policies that continue to interfere in commerce to this day. All these bureaucrats care about is what you SAY is in the product – and that you pay your fees every year. Of course before you can SAY anything about your own product you must humbly bow down before your overlords and request as meekly as possible that if they have the time could they perhaps deign to review your label so as to ensure it meets their standards for banality and mediocrity, thus ensuring its admission into the Great State of <insert state name here>.
So, if you have ever pondered why so many competing products all say and do the exact same thing, it’s more than likely because of regulations. When government sets the standards, nobody is permitted to step outside of the 3×5 card of approved product parameters. Everyone is forced sell to the same level of mediocrity stipulated by ignorant bureaucrats. Unless, of course, you are a mega huge business that helped to enact these regulations, in which case you can easily afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars to get your ingredient approved or the millions of dollars to buy political favor if you can’t. Unfortunately small time competitors can’t afford such hurdles even if their product is better. Regulation imposes costs only on those businesses that can already afford it. It ensures the consumer remains in the dark about what they’re missing from smaller competitors who are marginalized by lowest common denominator minded regulation. I know, because I make the innovative products you’re not permitted to know exist.
Greg Morin is a member of the Libertarian party and CEO of Seachem Laboratories located in Madison. Constructive comments are welcomed to this paper or at gregmorin.com