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Cranky Yellow Quaffs Bitter Bureaucracy

Posted by on March 17, 2011

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

Ever seen the movie Brazil? When the main character wants his A/C fixed, the opaque and monolithic government forces him to jump through one bureaucratic hoop after another, and he’s not sure that his simple problem will ever get fixed. Then a vigilante HVAC repairman named Harry Tuttle swoops in and fixes the problem in a few seconds.

I thought of this movie when I read a blog post that tells the very personal story of an inspiring small business owner. Without government grants, tax credits, or artificial incentives of any kind, David “Cranky Dave” Wolk saved his money and built up, ex nihilo, his own business — a gathering place and venue for artists and their creations. Like the vigilante HVAC man, Cranky Dave filled a niche for artists and the community and apparently did at least well enough to keep the doors open. Now things are getting difficult for him as Saint Louis city chases after his unpaid earnings tax bill (when he says he had no earnings) and simultaneously cites him for not having a separate trash bin for his business (he says he was using the one for his residence, which is in the same building and that he upcycles much of the trash produced by his business, incorporating it into art and craft projects).

As if this one-two punch of local government interventions on his business weren’t enough, the Riverfront Times reports that he is also being pursued for back taxes at the state level. Cranky Dave wants to make things right with the law, but he didn’t even know that the things he’s being cited for were problems. Will Cranky Dave be devoured by government paperwork like Harry Tuttle literally was at the end of Brazil? Is there room for honest, hardworking small businessmen in the city of Saint Louis?

Of course, Cranky Dave’s blog tells his side of the story, and perhaps the people he’s dealing with at city hall would tell another. The RFT found in their inquiries nothing remarkably different from the picture that Cranky Dave painted. Be sure to check out their blog post for more details.

What makes a business work? What grows an economy? These are not easy questions, although lawmakers and thoughtful people have struggled for easy answers almost as far back as historical records go. One thing that most can agree on is that healthy businesses grow the economy and serve the community. Most can also agree that it takes dedication and drive on the part of an entrepreneur to make their business reach and stay in the black.

Cranky Dave’s struggle is only one example, but it’s representative of an important principle. Bold, entrepreneurial individuals and hardworking community folks are what put products in the hands of customers and serve the people around them. The more that lawmakers do to get in the way, even with simple-sounding things like “you need a separate, commercial trash bin,” the more strain it places on fragile new businesses. To encourage local community and business growth, this is one time that a hands-off government attitude would clearly benefit not only Cranky Dave or the folks who are helping to keep Cranky Yellow alive, but anyone else with a dream and the will to make it happen. We’re pretty far from the world depicted in the film Brazil, but it still wouldn’t hurt to make things easier on the very people who are trying to make a difference.

7 Responses to Cranky Yellow Quaffs Bitter Bureaucracy

  1. Cranky David

    Thank you for the write up! How inspiring. Your site is full of thoughtful commentary and keep up the good work.

    Together we are stronger. Every effort for the future!

    <3 Saint Louis!


  2. Josh Smith

    Thanks Cranky David, I hope that you can keep doing what you do, too!

  3. David Stokes

    There is no way you could have known this, Josh, but Brazil is my all-time favorite film. I agree with everything in this post except the last sentence. I think in many ways we are getting frighteningly close to the world depicted in Brazil.

  4. Eric D. Dixon

    Cranky Dave, I suspect you might enjoy the book that we’ll be discussing in our March 23 book club meeting: “The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law,” by Timothy Sandefur:

  5. Tom Slawson

    Although I agree with most of what you write in this blog, and agree with much of what you write in this post, I must respectfully disagree with some of it concerning the unpaid taxes. The theme of your writings deals with buearacratic inpediments to business (mostly) but taxes are a given in any business environment. I too started my business out of my hip pocket but immediately took steps to establish business license, sales tax number, quarterly estimates on taxes, etc. I find it hard to view Cranky Dave as a victim in this matter since he knows, or should have known, that taxes are a part and parcel of doing business. If you want to play with the big boys, ya gotta put your big boy pants on! :)

  6. Josh Smith

    A lot of people are using the term “big boy pants” to refer to “exhaustive familiarity with local business regulation” on the RFT blog post’s comments. I don’t think I agree. Obviously he is liable for any taxes, just like he is liable for any trash violations. Cranky Dave is learning as he goes. His complaint is that the process is burdensome and not very transparent. I agree and go one step further: some or all of the regulations which are currently troubling him could cease to exist and we would all be better off.

    And while taxes are a given, Cranky Dave rents his space so he doesn’t need to pay the property tax, and he had no income, yet he’s getting the runaround about filing a form with a zero on it.

  7. Tom Slawson

    I would not disagree with the concept of excessive and burdensome regulation. However, from reading his blog, a couple things immediately jump out. He had sales (sales tax) and he had earnings (earnings tax). Those two issues make the bulk of his problems. Perhaps he needs a business savvy friend or even a paid advisor to walk him through these things. Ignoring those responsibilities will only make the matters worse.

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