'I propose a radical change – the whole system of permissions for sales. Scrap it now and never look back'

Douglas Kruger

By Douglas Kruger

CHECK the rankings. It’s Singapore first, then Switzerland, then Ireland.

Those are the shining lights at the top of this year’s freedom-to-do-business index.

As an island that uses the word “liberty” with such ubiquity, we should be studying these bright spots, and aggressively replicating them.

Britain comes in 30th place. The Heritage Foundation doesn’t have a separate ranking for Jersey, but here’s an anecdotal indicator: a couple of weeks ago, one of my favourite little farm shops, purveyors of a pretty mean steak and ale pie, received “permission” to expand their offering.

That may seem perfectly reasonable to some. Par for the course. I assure you, it isn’t. It’s deeply weird.

In a free society, if you are not breaking a criminal law, why should you have to ask any official’s permission to do something so simple? There is nothing normal about it.

Even their social-media announcement was odd. I’m on their side, but they should never have had to “get a thousand signatures” and “win” their case.

Why was there ever a case in the first place? It’s like something out of a Middle Ages feudal village, “Please sir, may I have leave to do some business?”

The whole thing becomes doubly ridiculous when you consider that what they have “won” is permission to sell genuine Jersey products. Who was preventing this? And for what idiocy?

I’m old enough to remember when the same store had to apply for “permission” to stay open longer: “Please sir, may we do more work?”

I propose a radical change here, and it’s one that can be enacted tomorrow. Scrap it. The whole system of permissions for sales. Scrap it, wholesale. Throw the book directly in the bin and never look back. It’s ludicrous, outdated, and makes us look provincial and silly. We’re competing in the real world, not against some ramshackle village down the country lane just past the old well.

If you scrap this nonsensical pettiness wholesale, here’s what will happen pretty much instantly: you will have more competition, which is good for driving down prices, you will have more product range more freely available, which is good for quality of life, and you will encourage more local product development because suddenly you have taken needless shackless off our local entrepreneurs.

Shall we go on? More employment, more money changing hands, more vibrancy, more positive incentives, greater freedom to create.

And so, a question: We’ve seen the battles that were won. But which were lost? Which applications to sell something new or work longer hours, were turned down? And by who? And for what possible reasons? The power to prevent otherwise free people from working, making and selling is purest tyranny. If it’s not a crime, it should be none of government’s business.

Exactly how many more people on our island would be contributing productively as entrepreneurs if they were simply “allowed” to? The answer is an invisible catalogue of shame.

Spend enough time reading the studies conducted by economic historians, and you quickly realise that tariffs and restrictions of this nature serve nothing more than the egos of officious tyrants. It’s a control problem. And that’s iniquitous. Within the confines of legal activity, and when no crime is being committed, the number of restrictions on what a business can sell should be zero.

Oh, I understand the counter-argument. If we don’t have licences, applications, fares, fees, fines, extractions and papal indulgences, how ever will we extract revenues from them? Islanders will end up keeping all that money! The horror!

There is a second objection, and it’s even weaker – what mechanism will regulate the products?

The answer is a single word: excellence. Those who serve the market with excellence will prosper. They will be the recipients of more business, and will therefore be able to continue profitably. Those who don’t, won’t.

Free trade finds equilibrium very swiftly, weeding out the bad players with ruthless efficiency, especially on a small island.

Here’s a third objection, the feeblest of them all: “But then people could just run around selling whatever they want, working whenever they choose to!”

Reminds me of a quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington. The invention of railways was only going to “encourage the common people to move about needlessly”. Can’t have all that freedom for the riff-raff, can we? Imagine them scuffling to and fro, selling things without our permission!

This is one of those problems that can be eradicated at the stroke of a pen. Bring it before the authorities for a swift execution. Its time has come to go.

Liberation is a wonderful idea. It needs to be more than just a word. The notion of a free society is a beautiful thing. But it has to be real before we can celebrate it, or count ourselves among its participants. Free means free. The bounds of freedom should end only at the law. Not at the whims of a committee.

End it.

  • Douglas Kruger is a business leadership speaker, and the author of the book They’re Your Rules, Break Them! He lives in St Helier, where he churns out YouTube videos from his apartment, provided the seagulls aren’t shrieking too loudly.

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