A Confederacy of Dunces or, Stupid Post-Katrina New Orleans Vending Rules


Josh Wexler, a New Orleans bookseller who made Reason's pages a few years back by fighting idiotic street-vending laws in the (so-called) Big Easy, has a sharp piece up at National Review Online about how the muckety-mucks down there are screwing up the recovery. A snippet:

The New Orleans city council–which oversees a city desperately in need of opportunity and services–recently passed an ordinance banning "retail sales outside of enclosed buildings" anywhere in the city, unless they are explicitly authorized by other laws.

As a longtime book vendor on the streets of New Orleans, I would like to say I was surprised by this government-issued nonsense. But doing business in the Big Easy is anything but easy for those with entrepreneurial drive….

The sweeping city-council measure, introduced by my councilwoman, Renee Gill Pratt, outlaws the very activity that has restored life to city sidewalks. The penalty for engaging in such commerce or for displays, signs or advertisements for outdoor sales? Six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Whole tale of woe here.

And Wexler's intriguing blog about "premodernist life in postapocalyptic New Orleans" here.

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  1. I don’t know. I can see your point here. But, street vending has problems related to the commons, doesn’t it? My understanding is that frequently, mob rule is involved, as, lacking private property rules, thuggery becomes the means to secure the best locations, etc. I’m not sure that a position informed by the study of economics could stand very strongly for street vending. Are there other options?

  2. Wexler:
    I have received aout $4300 from the federal government in the form of FEMA grants. In addition, I receive $90/week from the state of Louisiana for “disaster unemployment.” The question is: Should a libertarian opposed to most all of the government’s post-New Deal spending and scope of power accept this money?
    No. Here’s why it shouldn’t even be offered:


    Thousands of men from Mexico and Central America were driving into the city[New Orleans]. Word had spread throughout the Latino immigrant diaspora in America that the city had plenty of work, construction wages had doubled to $16 an hour and no one was asking for papers.

    “It was like a Gold Rush,” said Oscar Calanche, a Guatemalan immigrant who lived in New Orleans before the storm and returned as soon as the waters receded. “In one car there’d be three up front and three or four in the back, with suitcases and tools on top. It looked like a river of people from our countries.”

    … their pay coming from FEMA subcontractors.

    It’s too bad nobody’s paying them to stay home in fancy hotels.

  3. kebko,

    They should set up an old-school public market. There are literally hundreds, no thousands, of years of precedents, and they can still be found throughout the developing world.

    It works. You just need to establish the space rules beforehand, and have someone on hand to keep “the King’s peace.”

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