When Liberty Met Bacteria (UPDATED)

Freedom doth not reign supreme in the restrooms of food service establishments all over these great United States, at least according to one Republican senator (h/t Bob):

A freshman GOP senator argued this week that the government should not require food workers to wash their hands after using the toilet, saying “the market will take care of that.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) called routine hygiene rules an example of government overreach at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center on Monday.

“I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says, ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,’ ” Tillis said to audience laughter in a clip captured by C-SPAN.

“That’s probably one where every business that did that would go out of business,” he conceded, “but I think it’s good to illustrate the point, that that’s the kind of mentality we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country.”

Three observations about this:

1. He might have just been kidding, in which case my only definitive beef with him is that his sense of humor is terrible.

2. In a truly laissez-faire free market, he’s probably right that the market will take care of businesses with poor sanitation, because no one would want to eat at an establishment whose customers keep getting sick. Please note, however, that this requires people to get sick before market forces kick in, and it assumes that consumers have access to accurate information about restaurant cleanliness. That leads me to my third point.

Mike Mozart [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via Flickr

That sounds like something Hitler might’ve said…

3. Since it would be monstrous to suggest actually letting customers get sick like that without some degree of protection (you know that, don’t you, Senator?), he instead suggests that businesses post a notification indicating that their employees are not required to wash their hands. He seems to suggest that this would be voluntary, but realistically speaking, no business with any desire to survive would volunteer that information if they did not have to. So isn’t the notification just another government regulation, in the interest of providing consumers with accurate information? If the government can require a business to warn their customers about their employees’ bacteria-and-liberty-ridden hands, why can’t it just require them to wash their damn hands??? Soap cannot destroy liberty the way it kills bacteria.

One additional observation: Joe Veix of Death and Taxes wins the internet for his description of Sen. Tillis’ “shit-eating grin.”

UPDATE (02/04/2015): See also “The Invisible Hand of the Market Is Covered in Pee” (h/t Alice.)

Photo credit: Mike Mozart [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.


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