Good intentions, painful consequences

What is the federal government doing to put you out of business? That is the question I often pose during meetings with Wisconsin businesses. Unfortunately, they always have an answer.

Under President Obama, the annual regulatory burden on Americans has increased nearly $73 billion — about $230 per person. Dodd Frank, the 2010 financial “reform” bill was 848 pages when passed. As of December, the regulations being written under its authority totaled 13,789 pages with only about half the rule-writing complete. These will require over 60 million man-hours of paperwork, by one estimate.

All the laws, rules and regulation increase labor costs for businesses. That means fewer people hired and more costs passed on to consumers. President Obama wishes to further increase the cost of labor by pushing a 39 percent hike in the minimum wage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 1 million fewer people would have a job because of this. Prices for everyone would increase — including those left jobless by the increase in minimum wage.

Back in the real world, industry is innovating with automation in unexpected places:

“White Castle added two touch-screen ordering kiosks at a renovated restaurant in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It is the only restaurant in the family-owned, 406-unit chain to feature the kiosks, which are part of a pilot project. The large screens allow customers to order their burgers exactly as they like them in the privacy of the kiosk area, says White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson.

“McDonald’s is testing a similar system at a store in Laguna Niguel, California. Customers there can order from iPads at every table, choosing from among more than 20 toppings and sauces to create custom-made burgers that are grilled to order. Company representatives, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, told Technomic in December that the kiosk test will help McDonald’s gauge how customers feel about the customization experience.

“Quick-service burger chains are following the rest of the restaurant industry’s lead, as several other concepts have jumped on the kiosk and tablet-ordering bandwagon. Both Chili’s and Applebee’s recently announced that they are adding tablets throughout their restaurants, allowing customers to order and pay at their tables.”

Policies that increase labor costs and make it more difficult to stay in business have unintended consequences. Some of them can include adding automation that lets employers reduce their payrolls.

I’m a manufacturer. I’m all for innovation and productivity enhancement. I simply wish the productivity gains would occur naturally and not in a rush to survive what Washington imposes. That kind of forced change hurts both businesses and the Americans who work for them.

When will Washington stop trying so hard to put Americans out of business or out of a job?