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It’s Just Too Hard to Fish

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

The often quoted sage advice has been attributed to many, but was recorded first in Anne Ritchie’s 1885 novel, Mrs. Dymond: “If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” Unfortunately, “fishing” in America today is far from easy.


Fred DeLuca, founder and CEO of Subway that has created half-a-million jobs, admitted: “If I started Subway today, Subway would not exist…. There are more and more regulations. It's tough for people to get into business, especially a small business."

Thomas Stemberg, founder of Staples, wrote an editorial saying: “Launching a business like Staples…would be a much harder proposition…. Chief among those roadblocks: the blizzard of bureaucratic red tape that buries businesses and stifles job creation… The system that fueled entrepreneurship 25 years ago is now being regulated to death.”

Today, it is easier to stay dependent on government and charity than to work your way to your own American Dream. People call it “the cliff.” When you try to break free of poverty, you find that being productive hurts, and it costs you. At first, you have to get by on much less.

The evolved adage, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” sure sounds good. But is it still true in America? Imagine the following conversation:

Wife: “I sent you to the food pantry for fish. Where’s the fish?”

Husband: “I told them we needed fish, but there was guy saying, ‘If you keep coming back for fish, you’ll need another one tomorrow. But if you learn how to fish yourself, you’ll have all the fish you need for a lifetime.’ They gave me this fishing pole, some hooks, and a book on how to find worms so I can catch my own fish.”


Wife: “Have you ever caught any fish?”

Husband: “I haven’t tried yet, but I’m sure I will. I was going over to the lake.”

Wife: “Did they give you a license? You can’t fish without a license.”

Husband: “No, I need a license?”

Wife: “Did you know there is a limit on how many you can catch? Did you know some fish are endangered and even if you catch them, you’d have to put them back or you’ll be fined?”

Husband: “They didn’t say that. I thought I could just…”

Wife: “Do you know how much time and patience it takes to fish? Sometimes you don’t catch any fish. If it was easy, wouldn’t everybody be doing this?!”

Husband: “I’m willing to work. I thought if this went well, I could maybe get a boat and hire some people to fish in the ocean. They said I could catch albacore…”

Wife: “Are you nuts? A commercial fishing license is even more! You’d have to pay your employees minimum wage. There’s healthcare coverage and workman’s comp if there are any problems. Did they tell you that when they gave you that fishing pole and started you dreaming?”

Husband: “You’re not very encouraging.”

Wife: “Don’t worry, the government is so good to us now. We have all the fish and food we need. Take that pole back; let them get their own worms.”


Give a man regular welfare checks, a cell phone, cash for his clunker, food stamps, Medicaid, endless weeks of unemployment checks, and he won’t even look over “the cliff,” learn to fish, or much less become self-reliant and a contributing member of our community. It's time we care enough to help more over “the cliff” by cutting the regulation obstacles to starting a business and gradually ending the trap of endless, enabling dependency on government.

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