Eric Garner Could Spark American Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

” The violent death of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia set off the Arab Spring. Could the killing of Eric Garner lead to a springtime of police reform – and regulatory reform — in the United States?

  Bouazizi was a street vendor, selling fruits and vegetables from a cart. He aspired to buy a pickup truck to expand his business. But, as property rights reformer Hernando de Soto wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “to get a loan to buy the truck, he needed collateral — and since the assets he held weren’t legally recorded or had murky titles, he didn’t qualify.”

  Meanwhile, de Soto notes, “government inspectors made Bouazizi’s life miserable, shaking him down for bribes when he couldn’t produce licenses that were (by design) virtually unobtainable. He tired of the abuse. The day he killed himself, inspectors had come to seize his merchandise and his electronic scale for weighing goods. A tussle began. One municipal inspector, a woman, slapped Bouazizi across the face. That humiliation, along with the confiscation of just $225 worth of his wares, is said to have led the young man to take his own life.”

  Bouazizi was a poor man trying to engage in commerce to make a better life. His brother Salem told de Soto the meaning of Bouazizi’s death: “He believed the poor had the right to buy and sell.”

  It was a story that resonated across the Arab world – a government that stifled freedom and enterprise, unaccountable bureaucracy, arbitrary enforcement, official contempt for citizens, a man who just couldn’t take it any more.

  Eric Garner’s story is surprisingly similar. He had been arrested more than 30 times, for such crimes as marijuana possession and driving without a license, and most often for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.

  Why sell untaxed cigarettes? Because New York has the country’s highest cigarette taxes, $4.35 a pack for New York State and another $1.50 for the city. A pack of cigarettes can cost $14 in New York City, two and a half times as much as in Virginia . So a lively black market has sprung up. Buy cigarettes at retail in Virginia or North Carolina, sell them at a big markup in New York, and you can still undercut the price of legal, taxed cigarettes.

  Patrick Fleenor reported in a 2003 study for the Cato Institute that New York’s cigarette taxes had created a thriving black market, with rising levels of street crime, turf wars and increasing organized crime. He found that from 1990 to 2002, as the city and state repeatedly raised taxes, New York’s sales of taxed cigarettes relative to the national average plummeted. But reported smoking rates fell only slightly, in line with national trends. Obviously a lot of New York smokers were getting their fix from the black market.

  A 2013 study by the Mackinac Center found, not surprisingly, that New York had the highest rate of cigarette smuggling, totaling 61% of the state’s cigarette sales. “

 

Read it all at USA Today