Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Peddling Nonsense

In today's NY Times the paper reports on the travails of the city's street peddlers who are "barely able to make a living at a time when most vendors are educated, law abiding immigrants who increasingly support large families both overseas and locally..." All this is according to a report done by the Urban Justice Center. We now know why some people refer to justice as "just us."

This is the problem with advocacy research (and the folks who receive its wisdom uncritically). One never knows what data was left out, what questions were left unasked, and what conclusions were left undrawn because they would have conflicted with the researchers' agenda. After all the Urban Justice Center is the group that is promoting "the reduction in fines imposed on vendors."

The funniest line in the story is the reported yearly income of $7,500. The Times does have the sense to point out, however, that "many may have deliberately underreported their earnings." Well, of course they might have.

The vendors go on to complain that they are being unfairly fined, an average of $433 a year. The authors of the report lament: "Vendors are faced with so much regulation and harassment that they can barely subsist." These are the kinds of complaints that cry out for some context.

First of all, the complaints about over-regulation and harassment are the daily menu faced by the legitimate retailers of the city, many of whom are also immigrants. Second, there is of course no mention in the report about the impact that the vendors have on these very same retailers and the consequent damage being done to the city's tax base.

The fines that the peddlers face are simply the cost of doing business in NYC and $433 is a little more than $35 a month! Compare this to the rents and real estate taxes that the stores pay. And don't forget that for most vendors a license is only $250 a year. It should also be pointed out that a good percentage of the fines are for being in a restricted street and for being too close to a storefront (in many cases the store in question is selling the very same goods as the vendor).

Mayor Bloomberg's quote is right to the point here: "The only way to get people to obey the law is to fine them...So I guess first and foremost I'd say, 'Don't break the law and then you won't have that problem.'" But what the vendors and their apologists want is unrestricted vending everywhere in the city-and the retailers be damned!

Which brings us to a weakness in the story. The Times, while quoting the mayor to gauge the city's official position, doesn't talk to the retail community for its reaction. We have been engaged in a year-long effort to curtail peddler proliferation and the newspaper should have gotten our points across as part of the story. We'll be sure to keep after the Times on this.