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Rule of laws: Always grow

To stop a few vacation rental bad actors, city commissioners adopted new ordinances that have spawned a new bureaucracy. This is America: Collectivist laws that snuff out individual liberty.

  • Sarasota
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Well, that should do it! 

Thanks to the policy making of the Sarasota City Commission, the city now has extensive registration regulations for vacation rental homes — all intended to help end rude and noisy vacation renters who bother the homeowners next door.

Ha. Look at the accompanying box — at the explosion of the registration process these regulations have spawned. Here is one of the sad parts of this: If you stepped back and viewed that list of requirements, in effect, you would be looking at lawmaking in America today. 

Over the course of 250 years, this is how American government has evolved — from protecting individual rights and liberty in the beginning to becoming a gargantuan authoritarian State that puts the collective ahead of the individual. 

It’s yet another everyday example of how lawmakers elected by a majority (which is just a collective group in greater numbers than other groups) wield their given authority and power. The late Milton Friedman described this process in the 1970s like this:

Lawmakers embrace the grievances of a vocal few (e.g. campaign contributors, etc.) and then give birth to laws to right the perceived wrongs. This, in turn, spawns more laws to correct the unaddressed or unintended consequences of the previous laws. So over time, there is a growing bible of codes — codes that an expanding authoritarian bureaucracy must enforce. 

Ultimately, as this process progresses, the result is tyranny — of the elites against the powerless individual and the snuffing of liberty. That is America today.

This process, of course, always starts small — as is the case with vacation rentals in Sarasota. 

To be sure, vacation rental nuisances are not new. Families and groups of friends have been renting vacation homes in resort locations for at least 100 years. But starting in 2007, the matter became a concern throughout much of Florida’s waterfront communities when the Airbnb-VRBO phenomenon mushroomed. By then, unlike the 1960s and 1970s, most of Florida’s waterfront communities were densely populated, often with affluent retirees who wanted to live in peace by the sea.

An immediate conflict arose when investors bought up old barrier-island bungalows and erected multistory McMansions. Ideal for party-hearty vacationers. 

And as with everything good, there are always a few irresponsible ingrates who spoil things for the many. In the city of Sarasota, this mostly occurred on Lido and St. Armands keys. Drive the streets of their single-family neighborhoods, and you notice two things: The McMansions that were clearly erected to be vacation rentals and the yard signs that say “No more hotel houses.”

The complaints about these places have always revolved around three primary nuisances: noise (e.g. drunkenness and loud music), trash and parking (too many cars parked in the driveway and on the street). 

To be sure, none of us wants any of that to disturb our ability to live in peace. So it began: Agitated homeowners complained to their town and city commissioners. Understandably, neighbors are reluctant to confront the scofflaws directly. In 2013, Siesta Key resident Joe Volpe told the Observer rowdy vacation renters beat him after he asked them to stop shooting fireworks over homes.

Instead, residents complained to their city officials. 

What to do? In spite of aggressive enforcement of nuisance laws — which every city has — city commissioners and council members adopted more ordinances to erect barriers and make it increasingly burdensome to operate vacation rentals. Sarasota joined in.

In April 2021, the City Commission unanimously adopted an ordinance establishing an occupancy limit and registration requirements for barrier island vacation rentals.

Now, three years later and after the addition of more regulations and expanding the regulations to cover an estimated 700 vacation rental homes on the mainland (on top of the 140 on the barrier islands), we are witnessing what always happens with laws: They increase in scope and cost.

Earlier this month, the City Commission approved the creation of the Vacation Rental Compliance Division to handle the new workload. The division will create two new positions and reclassify another. The all-in cost of personnel from this year to next will increase 215%, from $69,716 to $219,890.

No doubt many Sarasota homeowners who despise the vacation rentals would argue the increased costs in city staff to enforce the new regulations and the cost of the regulations on the vacation-home owners are worth it.

But you can predict what is going to happen next: Inspectors will find new problems and items to be added to the inspections and the need for more inspections, driving up the fees more.

Over time, if the regulations become so burdensome as to force vacation rental owners to sell their McMansions to individual homeowners, while neighbors will be ecstatic, one of the consequences easily could be this: The city will have spent money to lose money. 

Vacation rentals will shift to places where they are more welcome. The collection of tourist-development taxes and retail and restaurant sales taxes, which subsidize year-round residents’ infrastructure and other needs, will be less than what they otherwise would be.

During one of the City Commission meetings addressing this issue in 2021, Commissioner Erik Arroyo said: “If I had to write this ordinance, it would have just said, ‘Reduce the decibel requirements so there is an easier trigger to issue citations, and you have to park in a parking lot.’ I think that would have solved 95% of all the complaints.”

Let’s mark our calendars: Two years from now we should examine the intended and unintended consequences. Who benefited? Who was injured? Who won? Who lost? And how big will the bureaucracy have grown?

From all of this — the never-ending expansion of the American government into every aspect of our lives, we are reminded of a line from Isabel Paterson, the 1940s path-breaking writer, columnist, friend of Ayn Rand and author of “The God of the Machine”: 

“It is a fundamental error to suppose that a law may do some good and cannot hurt anyone. Whether it does any good or not, a law enforced must hurt someone.”

In defense of capitalism

“Don’t say ‘capitalism,’” we were told once. “Say free enterprise.  ‘Capitalism’ is a bad word.”

To the contrary, it’s actually the greatest economic and social “ism” in the world. And the data prove it.

So it was heartwarming to read recently the speech that Javier Milei, new president of Argentina, delivered to the globalist, collectivist elites at the World Economic Forum. He defended capitalism and did so with factual evidence. Here are a few excerpts:

“Today I’m here to tell you that the Western world is in danger. And it is in danger because those who are supposed to defend the values of the West have been co-opted by a vision of the world that inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty … 

“Unfortunately, in recent decades, the main leaders of the Western world — some motivated by well-intentioned desires to help others, and others by the desire to belong to a privileged caste — have abandoned the model of freedom for different versions of what we call collectivism. 

“We’re here to tell you that collectivist experiments are never the solution to the problems that afflict the citizens of the world. Rather, they are the root cause …

“Throughout the whole period between the year zero and the year 1800, the per capita GDP growth rate remains stable at around 0.02%  annually. So almost no growth.

“Starting in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, the compound annual growth rate was 0.66%. And at that rate, to double per capita GDP, you would need some 107 years.

“Now, if you look at the period between the year 1900 and the year 1950, the growth rate accelerated to 1.66%. So, you no longer need 107 years to double per capita GDP—but 66. And if you take the period between 1950 and the year 2000, you will see that the growth rate was 2.1%, which would mean that, in only 33 years, we could double the world’s per capita GDP.

“This trend, far from stopping, remains alive and well today. If we take the period between the years 2000 and 2023, the growth rate again accelerated to 3% a year, which means that we could double world per capita GDP in just 23 years … 

“From the year 1800 through today, what you will see is that after the Industrial Revolution, global per capita GDP multiplied by more than 15 times, which meant a boom in growth that lifted 90% of the global population out of poverty … 

“The conclusion is obvious. Far from being the cause of our problems, free-trade capitalism as an economic system is the only instrument we have to end hunger, poverty, and destitution across our planet. The empirical evidence is unquestionable.”

Teach that at the universities. It might help. 



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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