You may have heard that Thom Tillis, a Republican United States Senator from North Carolina, said that government shouldn’t require restaurant workers to wash their hands after they use the bathroom.
He said, “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. The market will take care of that.”
I don’t know about you, but I want everyone who touches my food to wash their hands for 20 seconds under the hottest water possible for the full duration of Happy Birthday, but, should government mandate it? Yes. Here is why.
Senator Tillis is Wrong – the Market Will Not Take Care of That
The market will not “take care of that.” Even if restaurants post a sign saying “From can to kitchen, we’re a soap free zone,” customers may not see it or may not heed it. The market will not close the restaurant to avoid the real problem, at least not in time. The problem isn’t a sloppy business or even foolish customers. The problem is that people — maybe you — would get sick, pick up medical bills, lose work time or even die. Those illnesses, losses and bills would traumatize families. Even if it’s just a short bout of sleepless vomiting, it’s still an inconvenience that most people can’t afford.
Would you like to take the chance that every time you grab a chicken caesar salad, you’re spinning the barrel of a germ revolver? Do you know what you get when people don’t wash their hands and then touch your food? MRSA, flu, E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter. These can wreck your body. You may expel the burger, but the MRSA it leaves behind will be with you for life, compromising your colon, your kidneys and your freedom from perpetual doctor visits and bills.
Without Rules, There is No Remedy.
If there are no rules about hand washing, there also is probably no remedy for spreading fecal matter from hand to plate. A lot of things have to come together to make you whole after a life-threatening spate with food poison. You have to find a lawyer who you can afford or who will take the case, you have to prove who sold you the food, you have to pass through the roadblock arguments that you assumed the risk by disregarding the sign, you have to wait until a courtroom becomes available, then you have to pick a jury, try the case and hope the lawyer and evidence you gathered are enough to trump whatever the other side throws at you. This is no easy project. The fight and the bills will consume you, maybe even more than the tiny bugs copulating in your liver. If you win, you have to collect money from a restaurant that employed workers who didn’t wash their hands — what are the odds the restaurant is still around? Not too high. Either legal costs or Senator Tillis’ magical “market” would have shut that whole thing down.
Without Rules, We Would Waste
This fight you’ll wage to get back a little of what the restaurant stole from you will not be just slow, expensive and, probably, pointless — it will also be a huge opportunity cost. See, while you are writhing in pain, whacked-out on drugs, recuperating, rehabilitating and litigating, you aren’t working and earning, at least not as much as you could. So, one guy’s freedom from having to wash the scat from his hands before he serves you asparagus robs you, and many like you, of your freedom to be healthy, productive and prosperous. Why should his freedom trump yours, particularly when his freedom is immature and petty and yours is noble and universal?
Without Regulations, Business Would Suffer
Tossing out regulations is also bad for business. If servers are free to forego soap after they drop a deuce, then restaurants will become dangerous and unpredictable. Most people would avoid restaurants. See, that’s what regulations do — they make businesspeople play by the rules. Plenty of businesspeople would love to take the easy shortcut to profitability, but regulations coax them to fairness. Regulations also help the decent businesspeople by giving them guidelines about how to keep their customers safe. The government regulations about how restaurant workers should wash their hands may seem burdensome, but they are also the product of scientific discoveries about what workers need to do to get the stank off their palms. Conducting, analyzing, summarizing and presenting best practices is a huge resource saver for businesses of all kinds — it’s one of the many benefits that business gets from government and one of the features of regulation. The problem with most regulations is that they are created at the direction of a lobbyist. They are badly written and hard to find, making compliance both expensive and mysterious. Too often, leaders only talk about the burdens of regulation, rather than about how to fix the ones we need and have, particularly since the stakes are as high as they can get — life or death.
The First Basic Rule: There is No Freedom to Poison
There is a very basic rule that, somehow, we’ve let the greedinators rub away: No one has the right to poison other people. No one has the right to poison other people. The best way to avoid poisoning someone is to do the right thing from the beginning — wash your freaking hands. The wasteful, ridiculous way is to force you to test your food for toxins before you eat it and then to sue the ones who broke the rule.
But, really, this whole debate is about freedom. Is “freedom” really about being safe and whole, or is it about pulling all the cash out of the world that you can? Because in this case, and most others, they cannot coexist. Over the last 40 years, we’ve been taught that “freedom” means the liberty of profit – The Senator from North Carolina shows us why that needs to stop.