Who Exactly Is Government Helping?

Almost everyone believes that government is an essential institution, necessary to protect us from those threats we cannot counter on our own. But even if we accept that justification, it rarely describes what American government actually does, whether at the local, state, or federal level.

What exactly is the government protecting — and from whom?

Local Protection from Food Trucks

Late last year, Rachel Kennedy wanted to bring a Cuban food truck to North Kansas City, Missouri, a town of four square miles and 4,500 people. That shouldn’t have been controversial. The city agreed to allow the trucks to operate during lunchtime, and several other operators came, too. There was no reason to restrict the trucks to lunchtime, but never mind. At least for one meal a day, consumers enjoyed more choices at less cost. What could possibly go wrong?

The restaurant owners might lobby to expel the food trucks, that’s what. Choice and competition are good, except when you are an incumbent provider. Monte Martello, a local Dairy Queen operator, complained, “They bring the truck in, they compete against us for four hours, and then they drive away.” Outrageous!

Choice and competition are good, except when you are an incumbent provider. 

Worse, Martello went on, “They don’t actually contribute to the community in any way.” All the food trucks do is provide hungry people with lunch, and nothing more. If that’s all, who needs them? City Councilman Gene Bruns asked, “Why are we trying to rob our local businesses with vendors that come in from outside?”

Once the protest got going, city officials ran for cover. The community development director who helped arrange the pilot program refused to take a position. The executive director of the business council refused to be quoted on the issue. Another city councilman suggested allowing in the trucks once a week as a “compromise.” Even that would…