The Twilight Zone of Our Bureaucracy
Picture if you will: a woman, working in a stainless-steel kitchen, working with butter, infusing it with herbs and packaging it in small, stylish packages for sale in specialty stores and at farmers markets under the label Gourmet Butter.
An agent of the government walks in “I’m closing you down because you are making butter without a license”.
The woman is surprised, “I’m not making butter” she responds.
“Your end product is butter?” asks the agent.
“Yes” responds the woman, “but so is my starting product, I am merely enhancing it”
“That doesn’t matter” the agent advised.
“The public health inspector visits regularly” the woman said getting desperate, “He is satisfied with my production process and the cleanliness of my facility”
“Different department” the agent said with authority.
“But what am I to do. I have people waiting for their gourmet butter. I have events lined up. What am I to do?”
The agent handed the woman a document. “Do this”
Stop selling your butter
Cancel all marketing
Remove the order form from your website
“If I was mixing milk with chocolate syrup to make chocolate milk would I be ok?” Asked the woman starring numbly at the document.
“Yes, but you’re not making chocolate milk you’re making butter” said the agent as he prepared to leave.
“I’m not making butter!!” The woman was moving from shock to anger.
“The government is considering changing the regulations this summer that might help you”
“But I will be out of business by then”
“Not my department” said the agent as he turned and left.
The dialogue above is a creation of mine but the situation is real. It is an example of the complexity (and often absurdity) of regulation that is overwhelming our business community and frankly our bureaucracy too. It is also an example of the absolute authority, without consequence for actions, that we have allowed our bureaucrats. To allow someone to walk in and close a business without any process or hearing is unconscionable. It’s fertile ground for bullies.
In this case, the women stands lose the business she has poured her money, time, initiative and creativity into over the last 4 years and the community stands to lose a prospective employer and a product that has been well received by the woman’s customers. It’s lose lose.
Another less obvious issue is the burden placed on the the professional community who are so busy trying to ensure their clients are onside with regulations that they don’t have time (or budget) to contribute in meaningful ways to the strategic planning of these clients. Its time to step back, reduce the amount of regulation, give business owners a place to protect their position before action is taken and make bureaucrats responsible for their actions and liable for consequences if those actions are damaging.