Hand washing? Really Libertarians?

The latest entry in the “OMG really?” wars is brought to us by the libertarians, who, using the example of the brutal oppression of hand washing regulations, make total fools of themselves.

Speaking during a question-and-answer session at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Monday, Tillis related a story from his tenure in the North Carolina legislature to help explain his overarching philosophy on the finer points of hand-washing.

“I was having this discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,” Tillis said, in remarks first reported by the District Sentinel. “Let an industry or business opt out as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment, literature, whatever else. There’s this level of regulations that maybe they’re on the books, but maybe you can make a market-based decision as to whether or not they should apply to you.”

When Tillis’ interlocutor noticed a Starbucks employee coming out of the restroom and inquired whether Tillis would apply his anti-regulation stance to employee hygiene, Tillis affirmed that he would.

“I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says, ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after they use the restroom,’” he said. “The market will take care of that.”

That’s right folks, now pillars of basic public health and sensible regulation to prevent things like typhoid fever or hepatitis A represents an undue burden on businesses serving the public. I guess we should all have to be our own public health department, and upon entry of any business should have to sign a EULA in tiny print freeing them of responsibility if they have filthy food prep areas, warm refrigerators, and potato salad left at room temperature for days on end. Just imagine this brave new world where every decision you make as a consumer you get to individually vet for basic things like, “will this product poison and sicken me?” or “am I about to die if I consume this?” Because we all have time for such nonsense, or the knowledge, or access to information, and I’m sure we can rely on businesses to always be forthright with consumers about risks of their products.

And we thought anti-vax was bad. At least they’re not denying germ theory, just the last 100 years or so of public health and sanitation measures that have drastically-reduced food-borne illness. I guess freedom means the ability to sell poison and tainted meat, albeit with a disclaimer and the wonderful reassurance that if I die from a tainted taco my family can sue for damages (unsuccessfully if the business has a good lawyer).

Can we please not live in such a world?

Comments

  1. #1 Jake
    February 4, 2015

    What did you think Libertarian means? Liberty only to a certain extent? Fuck, you’re ignorant.

  2. #2 Nick
    February 4, 2015

    What kind of freedumb is that? Under the Tillis doctrine,they will still have the onerous burden of telling the customer / market that they can’t be bothered with food hygiene.

    Nah, they ain’t free until they can do as they like, period.

    Thanks for the heads-up on Senator Tillis’ great policy brain.

  3. #3 Michael Kelsey
    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
    February 5, 2015

    @Jake #1: Not ignorant, but clearly more polite and more knowledgeable than you. What do _you_ think libertarianism (by the way, the political philosophy is not capitalized) means? And do be clear about whether you are defining right-libertarianism, left-libertarianism, anarchism, or any of the other subgroups within the philosophy.

  4. #4 Kagehi
    February 5, 2015

    Huh.. We get self described “libertarians” popping in all the time at certain blogs, and I haven’t seen one yet who wasn’t a complete moron, who thought that the market could magically solve every problem, including the ones it already previously failed to, and the government was thus forced to act to correct instead, because the “market” didn’t just refuse to correct itself, but actively participated in denying the public the knowledge, or even outright lied to the same, about the very dangers it created, to make a profit.

    So… what subgroups, exactly? They are all self serving assholes, who simultaneously claims to hold personally responsibility at a premium, but deny any right of the public, as a whole, via *any* agency at all, to hold them to any such standard, ever.

  5. #5 Windchaser
    February 5, 2015

    I don’t think anyone’s saying that hand-washing is unnecessary: they’re saying that government enforcement of hand-washing is unnecessary or sub-optimal compared to the alternatives (including, for example, private enforcement, inspection, and certification).

    I’m a bit of an agnostic on this issue, but I don’t see what it has to do with denial of Germ Theory.

  6. #6 D.D. Driver
    February 5, 2015

    I’ll take the bait on this one. I’ll bet that you have gone to a friend’s house for dinner or to a park for a picnic that wasn’t inspected by the government. You weren’t risking life and limb. Although there was a risk, you decided based upon your level of trust and the reputations of your friends and family to go ahead and take a chance.

    The flip side of this issue, don’t forget that the people harmed by these health code regulations (which go way beyond handwashing and require the purchase of cost prohibitive equipment, etc.) are small businesses and very often minority and immigrant owned businesses. A lot of metropolitan areas have a vibrant food truck culture that is under *constant* attack based upon phony “health concerns” which in reality are just a subterfuge for the brick and mortar restaurants trying to shove out competition. Personally, I enjoy grabbing a torta or a plate of Korean tacos out of a truck window. It sure doesn’t feel like I am being Evil Knevil at lunchtime.

    The handwashing example seems like a silly hypothetical that’s never actually going to happen in the real world. What restaurant is going to survive with a sign that says “OUR EMPLOYEES DON’T WASH THEIR HANDS AFTER THEY TAKE A DUMP!”

  7. #7 EBMOD
    February 6, 2015

    *sigh*

    OK, when libertarians go off about how the free market is ‘that which must not be questioned’ they fail to remember what other stipulations must be in place for a free market to work. There must be things like perfect competition (low barriers to entry). There must be perfect freedom of choice. And most importantly, THERE MUST B PERFECT KNOWLEDGE.

    In other words, for the market to behave efficiently, EVERYONE who stepped in to that Starbucks would need to 1) know employees are not washing their hands
    2) understand the ramifications of that

    Of course, this doesn’t happen, Inevitably, some people would not know about the lack of hygiene and get sick against what would have been their better judgment. Some people would not care they didn’t wash their hands, not realizing just how dangerous some of the communicable bugs are.

    The role of the government should be to facilitate not necessarily a free market, but a fair one. Requiring hygiene in eateries is a way to ensure that asymmetric knowledge is not messing with the market. It also keeps people from dying of communicable diseases…

    Basically, libertarian ‘free markets’ are an ivory tower exercise in imagining a market devoid of everyday reality.

  8. #8 D.D. Driver
    February 6, 2015

    “Basically, libertarian ‘free markets’ are an ivory tower exercise in imagining a market devoid of everyday reality.”

    You have a point. BUT–a blind faith that a sizable minority of government actors will not be stupid, corrupt, and/or outright abusive is its own form of ivory tower exercise. We live in a society where peaceful people can be suffocated to death in broad daylight by power-tripping cops enforcing VERY IMPORTANT “public safety” laws. Just as it is an “ivory tower” exercise to have blind faith that regulations aren’t a tool for the powerful and connected to create barriers to entry for honest competition. Just as it is a”ivory tower” exercise to have blind faith that regulators are actually effective at protecting citizens from harm. (Fun fact: government regulators gave the BP oil rig their stamp of approval.)

    It’s a total strawman to say that libertarians think free markets “can’t be questioned.” Most libertarians will concede that markets aren’t perfect. That’s not the point. The point is that markets are usually better than the alternative, which is subject to corruption, abuse, and is often ineffective anyhow.

    I think most common sense folks would be outraged about cops jailing peaceful immigrant business owners for selling bacon-wrapped hotdogs:

    http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/the-bacon-wrapped-hot-dog-so-good-its-illegal-2151873

    To be blunt: the notion that the *political process* can be used to “facilitate a fair market” is naive and “devoid of reality.”

  9. #9 Jesse
    February 6, 2015

    @D D Driver — yes, government actors can be corrupt. And yes, regulations aren’t perfect.

    But allowing the market to operate these things has proven disastrous just about every damned time.

    Hey, what drug company would survive if they sold poison? I guess all those people who were ingesting all kind of fake “patent medicines” prior to the FDA should have done their due diligence, right?

    The idea that small businesses are going to be terribly hurt by food regulations is simply silly. I’ve worked in such places; asking that people wipe the counter down and store the meat below the vegetables in the fridge is hardly a high cost item.

    You also misread who competes with who. The Four Seasons is not competing with the Halal food truck. The two serve different purposes, which is why there are dozens of restaurants in the Financial District (in NYC) with food trucks literally a few feet away. Neither is in any danger.

    And the political process facilitates fair markets every goddamned day. Do you know how the stock market works? It’s one of the more efficient markets out there and it is efficient precisely because there are scads of rules about who knows what and when.

    Whether a market works — or even exists — is not some inherent property of the world. It’s highly dependent on the rules of the game that have been set out from the get go.

    And people do not come into transactions as equal actors, with complete information. If we all had telepathy your formulation would work. But we don’t.

    And the rules WORK. FFS, the incidence of food-borne illness is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago. Why? Anyone who serves food has to abide by certain rules. That keeps the ones that are careless out of the business and stops things like typhoid epidemics or salmonella.

    governments make rules so that markets can operate in the first place. Markets only transmit certain kinds of information and they don’t do so equally to every actor. That;s why we regulate certain things.

    The reason you mandate boil or steam for hot dogs is that grilling — tasty as it is — won’t always get the internal temperature past ~150 or so. Why not? Because if you grill at a higher temperature — which many people do — the outside is cooked through but the inside isn’t. And at 100 degrees or so the hot dog feels hot to your mouth but that’s the temperature bacteria just love. So you can have a hot dog that is basically burned on the outer layers but not really cooked inside.

    At home this is no big deal. But if you serve 1,000 hot dogs a day sooner or later someone is going to get sick. This is especially true because hot dogs are shipped frozen. Ever cook frozen meat without defrosting? In a broiler a piece of chicken lie a thigh or drumstick will not cook on the inside even though it looks fine after ~15 minutes or so.

    Boiling, on the other hand, is at 212 degrees and after a certain amount of time the hot dog is cooked through, without burning the outside — the cook is much more even. You wouldn’t boil everything, obviously, but for hot dogs it just works. Steaming does this also, and it’s why pressure cookers were invented. (Plainly you don’t cook much 🙂 )

    I might add that in many “traditional” dishes, there are a couple of premises: on is that the meat isn’t frozen. The other is that often you’ll be marinating something in a highly acidic solution for a while, such as vinegar or with spices, which can act as a kind of disinfectant. But those premises often go out the window when you operate a restaurant and especially a food truck type thing. Also there is a HUGE difference in the ability of ground beef or a “wurst” (hot dogs, knockwurst, whatever) and say, a steak or pork chop to transmit illness. Anything ground up is a much riskier proposition because bacteria tend to colonize surfaces and grinding anything makes a ton of surface area. This is why the shelf life of refrigerated ground beef is so damned short whereas a steak can go for a week or so in the fridge before you have a problem. (This is also why sushi places can operate at all — the nastier bacteria are only on the surface of the fish, so as long as you near-sterilize the knife and clean the hands you are OK).

    The rules weren’t pulled out of a goddamned hat to make people’s lives hard. They were enacted because people freaking died. And no, no restaurant on earth would disclose that employees don’t wash their hands. If you left it up to them there’d be every reason to lie.

    You see, here’s how this market wold work: you go to restaurant and you get sick. You don’t go back. But unless you stand outside the door and tell everyone few people will get the information you have. And the people that do go back (almost by definition) aren’t getting sick, right? They like the place. So there’s a self-selection of repeat customers. But that self-selection doesn’t magically make the germs disappear.

    This is why companies with crappy service seem to do well. YOUR experience might be bad, but there’s enough other people who were indifferent of for whom it didn’t matter that they stay in business. And even when you shout from the rooftops (or on Yelp) — that doesn’t matter much.

    With the local drug store or bike shop that doesn’t matter. With restaurants though, you’re now affecting lots of people in a way that could kill them. Dead people don’t write bad reviews on Yelp.

  10. #10 jane
    February 6, 2015

    Jesse – You obviously haven’t heard what it costs bike shops to get insurance. 🙂

    While I agree with most of your points, the safety regulations really are financially burdensome for little folks, or impossible for the littlest. It’s not just “don’t let the meat drip on the vegetables”; it’s “purchase a triple sink” and “purchase a self-closing door” and “don’t store cleansers in the same pantry as food” and “keep no animals on the premises”, and on and on. Someone wishing to start a home business who does not have access to a commercial kitchen may be expected to shell out $30K to $50K to construct one before making a single cupcake – unthinkable for most. Many states now have “cottage food” regulations whereby low-risk foods such as bread and jam, with which it is nearly impossible to poison people, can be made in home kitchens and locally sold with clear disclosure of their status. Some states still don’t allow it. Why not? Nobody’s died from it.

  11. #11 Anne Blankert
    Amsterdam,NL
    February 7, 2015

    In my country, the Netherlands, we have a national holiday where a large percentage of population goes out on the street and sell stuff to each other for dimes and nickles. Great fun. In the last 10 years government has applied food regulations to this event: people are no longer allowed to prepare food or drinks for each other. This is bad, as buying food from your neighbours who may be from very different cultural backgrounds is really fun and allows people to get to know each other. Of course, safety is used as the reason to apply food regulations, but in reality there were very few incidents. Government was just terrified by the idea that something could happen and they would be held responsible afterwards.

    When will government start to apply food regulations to home kitchens? Should we stop preparing our own food and get our food from government regulated outlets only?

    Of course it is a good thing to require food preparing employees of commercial food companies to apply some basic hygiene and not let the market decide on this. However, how strict should such regulations be and how strictly should they be enforced?

    Balance is key, and should follow economic rules: the total cost of regulations should be less than the benefit of the regulation. Here cost and benefit should be calculated not for single entities (government, commercial companies, citizens) but for the whole economic system and cost should not only be expressed in money but also in freedom, health, stress, privacy, time, wellbeing, self-esteem, etc.

    To me, it is obvious that not markets, but governments are the only entity that can see the perspective of the whole economic system. Unfortunately governements too are very dependent on their internal interests, the interests of companies and the whims of voting citizens. The net result is tendency for more rules and less freedom and that’s why it is a good thing to have people trying to counter that?

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  13. #13 Mark
    February 7, 2015

    I think Anne #11 nails the right balance here. Of course regulations can be foolish or onerous. The libertarians use of examples of such to generalize to the whole system of regulation is absurd and fallacious logic. No one believes the government always regulates correctly, or that appropriate regulation isn’t an constantly shifting process with moving targets, and constant new actors, new technologies and new problems. This is a complex problem.

    The problem here is a libertarian using an incredibly bad example to make his point and thus exposing how extreme libertarianism is as a philosophy. When you say there is no good regulation, or reject such obviously good and important regulations it exposes the extremism that lies underneath this belief system. This was a classic Kinsley-type gaffe.

    I think that libertarians, like many people holding extreme beliefs have to walk a fine line, if they say what they really believe, out loud, they will be mocked and shamed. This is an example of a peak behind the curtain of the extremism of this political philosophy. The passion of commenters like Jesse comes from the historical knowledge of how bad things were before many of these regulations were enacted – literal poison being sold to children as flu medication, tainted food being sold ubiquitously etc. 99% of us don’t want to go back to this era, and libertarians are generally pretty cautious about selling their nonsense to try to make it sound like thats not what they want. Instead they talk about the “little guy” getting hurt by this or that onerous regulation. Sure fine, I bet that happens. Let’s change it. But that’s not the goal here, or the people they’re really interested in protecting. This is the psychopath emulating empathy to manipulate normal people. The libertarians aren’t interested in the little guy. This jackass republican doesn’t care about small businesses or the weaker individuals in his society. No he wants deregulation for big business, and they sure as hell don’t care about the street vendor, or the food truck, or the cupcake seller trying to get a start.

    So, that line of bullshit isn’t going to work here, sorry. The agenda of libertarians is dangerous. This was an example of the extremity of the libertarian mindset, that even good old, common-sense, been in place for 100 years regulations, that everyone likes, are in danger if these people had their way.

  14. #15 RAY
    February 15, 2015

    Yeah, i guess they are saying government enforcing washing of hands isn’t neccesary. Am still tryna get a hold on this ‘libertarian’ concept. Will need some more .

  15. #16 RAY
    February 15, 2015

    .Yeah, i guess they are saying government enforcing washing of hands isn’t neccesary. I am still tryna get a hold on this ‘libertarian’ concept. Will need some more .

  16. #17 Matthew Chapman
    Los Angeles, CA
    February 16, 2015

    To me, what makes Tillis’s comment even more astonishingly stupid is the part where he says he’s okay with companies opting out of hand-washing regulations “as long as they put up a sign”. Does he not realize that he’s really just proposing swapping one regulation for another regulation that’s equally onerous but harder to enforce? How does it increase “freedom” if companies can opt out but are then required by law to put up a sign saying they’ve opted out?

    This is a simple case of a man whose mouth works faster than his brain. Congrats, North Carolina, you voted for a real brain surgeon here.

  17. #18 douq millar
    http://dailydouq.wordpress.com
    March 1, 2015

    Mark #13, it’s not just that some regulation might be wrong, but that all is. But even worse I think it is patently absurd to think that a business will, obliviously (in libertarian dreams) do the “right thing” because they don’t want to ruin their reputation and lose business. Seriously! You could fill a terabyte with all the examples of rotten things business does without a care in the world for their “reputation”. And for individuals to be able to do enough research to determine their food poisoning came from a particular place and thus stop frequenting it – right. This whole idea, like most of the self-regulating ideas, is ludicrous.

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