Entrepreblues

Our venture into the food service business opened me up to various facets of living I wouldn’t have known existed. We are one stall in a row of eight, the newbies in the community. When we first came in, we thought the veterans were somewhat standoffish; over time, my wife made close friends with a few of them. We caught glimpses of their business operations and of their travails therein.

If you’re ever thinking of opening a canteen in a private high school, my definitive advice is “Don’t.” There are far too many restrictions and arbitrary impositions, making it extremely difficult to fight the tide of rising prices. Despite this, our friends aren’t budging: for them this is their livelihood, a make-or-break proposition. And the school we operate in isn’t fazed at all: there’s a long list of entrepreneurs waiting to take the spot if anyone ever drops out.

The situation isn’t much better in the college setting either. One of our friends also operates a stall at one of the upscale universities (which shall –ahem!– go unnamed.) One time he noticed a marked drip in his sales. On assessment, he found the cause: the school’s entrepreneurship program had, as part of their academic requirement, enjoined students to open food stalls in another area of the university!

On first glance, this might just be another case of healthy competition, but no. The students are able to offer much lower food prices because (1) their rent is much lower than the actual tenants’ (2) they don’t have to pay any business permits to set up (3) they don’t have to pay any taxes! How can you be teaching the students entrepreneurship, my friend asked, if they don’t have to face any of these realities?

At the end of the day, for these students, it’s a school requirement. It doesn’t have to make money, it just has to give them a grade. As an aside, I’ve heard tell of students in the entrepreneurship program who set up actual businesses for their program only to close them down once they graduate. Back to helping Daddy’s real business, I suppose.

Now, as part of their active response to Pope Francis’ most pressing and paramount concern for the protection of the environment, the school has also banned single-use plastics and disposable containers. No more straws, no more plastic sporks, not even cups! In order to keep up with the expected number of cups, plates, and utensils to wash, the school will now levy additional fees to pay for busboys and dishwashers! But, our friend complained, my store sells take-out ice cream! No problem, said the school, students will now bring their own containers. No word yet on the sanitary aspects of the plan, but hey, gotta listen to the Pope.

At the micro-level, freed from all constraints and context, these decisions sort of make sense. The school wants to provide affordable food for the students. The school wants to provide healthy food for the students. The school wants to do its part in protecting the environment. But then, in the realm of paper regulations, these become iron-clad ordinances that become a substitute for real freedom and responsibility.

No doubt, some school bureaucrats are patting themselves on the back for how progressive they are for putting out these innovative rules, all the while producing good little robots of society.