“The climate for small businesses like ours in New York has become such that it’s difficult to justify taking risks and running —never mind starting—a legitimate mom-and-pop business,” wrote the owners of China Fun, a popular Upper East Side restaurant, in a letter recently posted on their shuttered restaurant’s front door.
People who lose family businesses often express similar sentiments. But the Wu family, who started China Fun in 1991, went beyond the usual grumpiness in their farewell letter to identify a serious flaw and contradiction in the way New York claims to treat small businesses. “The state and municipal governments,” attest the Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs, “with their punishing rules and regulations, seem to believe that we should be their cash machine to pay for all that ails us in society.”
Indeed, New York City’s elected class talks a good game about the importance of small businesses, while pursuing policies that use these businesses as the instrument of left-wing social change. One of the first actions that Mayor de Blasio and the newly elected city council took in 2014, for example, was to amend a new paid sick-leave law that originally applied to companies with 15 or more employees: the revised law expanded the coverage to businesses with as few as five workers.
The mayor and his progressive allies spoke about the extension of paid sick leave as an unalloyed victory for progress. “This is going to be one city, where everyone has a shot and rises together,” said de Blasio. “This is the culmination of a movement and coalition that has put the rights and needs of families at the center of our agenda,” announced council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito are ushering in a new progressive era by reinvigorating our social safety net,” toasted Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
Among the huzzahs and congratulations, not a word was heard about the businesses that would shoulder the financial burden of providing an extra paid week annually per employee—not to mention the administrative costs of recordkeeping, rolling over unused hours, and the like. For major companies with dedicated human-resource departments, these functions are built in, but for a small family restaurant, it’s a different story.
It may be that the social importance of paid sick leave outweighs the petty bookkeeping concerns of the city’s small businesses—but imagine how galling it must be to hear elected officials take credit for something that, after all, they are strong-arming other people to do. When progressives expand the regulatory framework in which businesses operate, they claim credit for taking bold steps to fix social ills—but they also create consequences that they will never have to deal with themselves.
In his battle to out-progressive his former employee Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo hiked the minimum wage to $15 per hour—and cast the move in reverential terms as the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice” (named after his late father, the former governor). The state-government website describes the rise in the pay floor as “one of the single-most progressive actions to help working families.” Cuomo insists that “New York is showing the way forward on economic justice” by instituting a policy virtually guaranteed to eliminate 200,000 jobs statewide, and which will deform the upstate labor market by setting a $12 minimum wage—almost equal to the area median wage.
One can only imagine the Wu family at China Fun, dealing with rising rents and other costs—including a 6 percent tax on commercial rents that applies only to companies in lower Manhattan—hearing about these new labor costs devised by socially enlightened politicians. It’s remarkable how blithely today’s progressive leaders follow in the path of their spiritual forebears, spreading ruination in the name of progress. They can keep slapping one another on the back, but New Yorkers just lost another family business.
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