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Obamanomics And The Jewish Deli Dilemma

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Did you hear the big news from the world of small business? Jewish delis are closing in both Los Angeles, and New York City.

The trend has been a long time in the making, especially in New York City where Jewish delis’s used to number in the thousands and now total less than one hundred. Yet the Los Angeles Times reported this “news” just this past week, and the details that the report included – and the details that were ignored– point to some far greater problems.

The article, written by Journalist Tiffany Hsu, notes that the decline of the L.A. area Jewish delis “seems to be accelerating partly because of health concerns over the schmaltz-spread fare...” This may very well be the case – certainly American adults are inclined to being more “health conscious” with their dietary choices, rather than less, and food categories of all types that are perceived to be un-healthy are probably headed for a declined in consumption.

From there, the article suggests that “skyrocketing” food costs have driven some delis out of business. That may be true, too, but what has caused that to happen? The article suggests that “mass exports” of food to Japan is the culprit on the price spike. The story also blames the decline of LA-area Jewish delis on “the recession,” “too much competition” from other restaurant sectors, and the notion that younger consumers “don’t understand delis and comfort food.”

It was only one small news story in the LA Times. But let’s think through some of the ideas in this news story – ideas reported as “facts” – and consider what they mean from an economic standpoint. Consider, for example, the notion of “too much competition.” What exactly does this mean?

Obviously the more competitive a marketplace is, the more difficult it is for any particular business entity to survive and thrive. But how do we know when the level of competition is appropriate, and when it is “too much?”

Americans are accustomed to fierce competition in other arenas – in sports, especially, and even in the arts and entertainment. Similarly, most of us would never say “my favorite team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this year because there was too much competition in the NFL.”

But when it comes to local small businesses, we often succumb to this vague, un-defined notion that there is this magical amount of competition that’s “just right,” and if our favorite business can’t compete, then therefore there is “too much” competition.

Yet in our free market economic system, we understand that competition is a good thing. If competition means that certain business entities or entire business categories decline because of the competition, then so be it. It is fairer and more just to allow businesses to rise and fall according to the market demands of consumers, rather than imposing artificial “limits” on the number of people who are to be permitted to participate in an industry.

But what are we to make of this idea that the delis’ failure is because consumers “don’t understand?” If a consumer chooses to “not understand” any particular business, and therefore chooses not to patronize it, then that consumer has made their choice – haven’t they? We’re all better-off if, win or lose, we honor and respect the choices of consumers, rather than presuming that they are ignorant if they make a choice that we don’t like.

And guess what the LA Times article about the delis completely ignored? The impact of government policy on small businesses. Nowhere did it reference the expansive and onerous mandates placed upon business via Obamacare, the impact on business owners of the President’s payroll tax hike, or his income tax increases on “rich people.”

No, the LA Times apparently wasn’t interested in how the President’s income tax hikes have taken money away from what the I.R.S. designates as “Subchapter S Corporations” (sometimes abbreviated as “S-corps”), and how this has effectively taken money directly out of small corporations, many of which operate small businesses. Likewise, the article made no reference to the fact California voters approved an increase in state income tax rates for “rich people” (thus leading to even less revenue in Subchapter-S Corporations) on their ballot last November, nor did it acknowledge that California has for years been on a trajectory of higher and higher unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation mandates for businesses.

It is perhaps more comfortable to pretend that our current government policies are not problematic, and blame the struggling economy on “too much competition” and consumers who “don’t understand.”

But how many more delis must fail, before we get honest and acknowledge that government is our problem?

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