If Only His Bootstraps Were Made of Red Tape

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

The blood-boiling story of the day comes from San Francisco:

He sleeps under a bridge, washes in a public bathroom and was panhandling for booze money 11 months ago, but now Larry Moore is the best-dressed shoeshine man in the city. When he gets up from his cardboard mattress, he puts on a coat and tie. It’s a reminder of how he has turned things around.

In fact, until last week it looked like Moore was going to have saved enough money to rent a room and get off the street for the first time in six years. But then, in a breathtakingly clueless move, an official for the Department of Public Works told Moore that he has to fork over the money he saved for his first month’s rent to purchase a $491 sidewalk vendor permit.

It just gets worse from there.

• The city bureaucrat who clamped down on Moore did so after reading about his success in the newspaper.

• A spokesman for the city’s Department of Public Works described the city’s interaction with Moore as an “educational” experience for Moore.

• The city official wouldn’t tell Moore what building he needed to visit to get the permit, because she didn’t know.

• When Moore was able to collect the money (which included donations from his outraged customers), got the right forms, and found the right office, they wouldn’t take his money, because he didn’t have a government-issued photo ID.

Moore is going to be okay, thanks to the generosity of the private citizens who have rallied around him. He now has enough money for the permit and his first month’s rent, and he has the counsel of an attorney who is helping him navigate the city’s maze of regulations free of charge. But it’s certainly no thanks to San Francisco’s famously progressive, pro-homeless city government.

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51 Responses to “If Only His Bootstraps Were Made of Red Tape”

  1. #1 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    Government doing its best to destroy a citizen who is only saved by the actions of his fellow citizens? I’ve said it before, and sadly, I’m sure I’ll be prompted to say it again: Orwell and Rand were fucking prophets.

  2. #2 |  Andrew Williams | 

    I want the name of this stukach. Bureaucrats of this level of incompetence should be publicly shunned and humiliated so that they NEVER forget what they have done.

  3. #3 |  Zargon | 

    I like how it was described as a “breathtakingly clueless move”. I don’t see any explanation that could be any more generous than straight up evil.

    The official in question found out, more or less accidentally, about a person in dire straits that happened to have a few hundred dollars. Then he proceeded to steal almost everything he owned. Because he could, and because he could get away with it.

    He’s on about the same level as a gangs of delinquents that go around attacking homeless people for fun. Except he’s far less likely to ever face any consequences for his evil deeds.

  4. #4 |  fwb | 

    We need more regulation, of the regulation, of the regulation, of the regulations.

    How about tattooing a big scarlet “A” on the forehead of the bureaucrat? “A” for asshole.

    “I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.”
    – H. L. Mencken

    Tiochfaidh ar la!

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I can’t believe such a thing would happen in a city populated by people who proudly boast of how compassionate they are and how the primary mission of man (and government) should be to help his fellow man.

    Just kidding.

  6. #6 |  Edwin Sheldon | 

    My blood is indeed boiling. Has the official been hanged yet?

  7. #7 |  Oatwhore | 

    Here’s a comment from the article to give you a better idea.

    It IS stupid and byzantine. Even for me, and I’m college educated and not homeless! After navigating the city’s website’s online to get a vendor license, I got one finally after marching down to the building, filling out forms, and paying the fee, but realized it was only for the right to charge taxes. This way, the city and state can collect on my earnings. But that’s not enough. I need to also go to some police station(??) and fill out forms about getting a permit. There are all sorts of restrictions and stuff, and the online webpages are NO HELP at all!! So if one wants to sell ANYTHING on the street legally in SF, one needs a Seller’s License (to charge tax) AND a vendor permit (more complicated). I still haven’t figured it out! Plus, even if I get one now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the SF cop a**holes would hassle me anyway, and say I’m doing something wrong. This city sucks.

  8. #8 |  Marty | 

    #2 | Andrew Williams-

    MOST bureaucrats ‘should be publicly shunned and humiliated’- it’s a rare govt employee that deserves any praise…

    I can tell I’m becoming shock-proof… I wasn’t the least bit surprised and kind of felt like, ‘duh, it’s the govt… that’s what they do…’

  9. #9 |  perlhaqr | 

    What the fuck did that guy think he was doing, anyway? If he stopped being homeless, dozens of very important government employees would have less work to do. I mean, crap, just think about it! If all the homeless got jobs and moved into housing, they’d have to fire all those social workers!

    Of course, having no other useful skills, they’d quickly run out of money and end up homeless…

  10. #10 |  Comrade Dread | 

    I think the just punishment would be to have the industrious homeless guy and the bureaucrat trade living conditions for a few months.

    These dicks wouldn’t know empathy if it came up and bit them on the ass.

  11. #11 |  Packratt | 

    I guess it really is true… There’s nobody that the government hates more than the person who helps himself instead of relying on government to help him.

  12. #12 |  Andrew Williams | 

    #8 | Marty:

    True that. Double true!

  13. #13 |  chance | 

    “These dicks wouldn’t know empathy if it came up and bit them on the ass.”

    Don’t you know? Empathy is a bad word these days.

  14. #14 |  dsmallwood | 

    the best part is the fact that it’s San Francisco. the city that truly cares. the city that led against the Iraq war. that led for gay marriage. that led for the environment. they care so much.

    But not about y’know, YOU. not about an individual. This poor guy is lucky that they aren’t hitting him for an environmental disposal fee for his shoe polish.

  15. #15 |  Danno49 | 

    Ah, San Francisco. I remember when their great idea to help the homeless was to buy them shopping carts because they were stealing them from the local grocery stores. Because that’s what the homeless need. Shopping carts. Not more food. Not more medical care. Shopping carts. I realize they do spend an incredible amount per homeless person on those things already but seriously – shopping carts?

    And now this.


  16. #16 |  jahigginbotham | 

    15 – dann049)
    Yes shopping carts – it saves the grocery stores money replacing them.

  17. #17 |  Frank | 

    I’d like to dedicate this next song to the spineless thieving bureaucrap who has nothing better to do than steal from the homeless. And what better song for an asshole than Jim’s Big Ego playing their 2003 hit “You’re An Asshole”!


  18. #18 |  freedomfan | 

    From the article:

    Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for Public Works, said the department’s contact with Moore was meant to be “educational.”

    “We certainly don’t want to hamper anyone’s ability to make a living,” Falvey said. “Our education efforts are actually meant to support that effort by making our streets an enjoyable place for people to visit.”

    This is something the governments thinks of as education. It’s amazing that the government schools are such high-quality institutions. Oh, wait…

    And, “to hamper anyone’s ability to make a living” is exactly what they are doing; whether or not they claim that as a specific goal is irrelevant. Requiring a permit fee in front of the productive efforts of a citizen is a direct barrier to entry and a direct impediment to earning a living.

    BTW, many commenters at the article are excusing the City because it’s a permit that everyone is supposed to have. (And, I suppose there is some value in consistency, nevermind that the permit is one that no one should be required to have.) I wonder if they feel the City should be hounding every panhandler who shuffles along asking people for a quarter for their papers? By the apologists’ reasoning, shouldn’t they be treated the same way? (And, if a vendor’s permit isn’t appropriate because they are operating as charities, shouldn’t they be registered as a 501(c)(3) or (c)(4) with the state and feds?)

  19. #19 |  Bronwyn | 

    I must still have some grasp on my innocence, because I read this and my jaw dropped so dramatically, it popped.

    Will there be a public shaming of the bureaucrat?

    Nothing violent, but a good, long-lasting dose of humiliation is in order.

  20. #20 |  Marta Rose | 

    I bet this will land me in negative double digits, but here goes:

    Government bureaucracy is often very stupid and almost always completely maddening and all-too-often woefully inadequate to the task of providing for the needs of the most marginalized.

    But it’s never been my experience that private charity, or the market, have provided reliable solutions to these problems either. If all of you good, private, charitable citizens and all of your beloved markets want to solve poverty, what’s stopping you? Why let a bumbling, incompetent bureaucracy get in your way?

    Having spent a lot of time with people living in poverty, I’ve never been too impressed with government solutions, but I’ve also never noticed private citizens with power and resources beating down the doors to solve these problems either.

  21. #21 |  Brian | 

    To #20, there’s a huge difference between not having a good solution for helping the homeless and actively trying to prevent the success of a homeless person who is turning his life around.

  22. #22 |  damaged justice | 


    Quit stealing all my fucking money, and I’d have a lot more to give.

  23. #23 |  Greg N. | 

    This is why tar and feathers were invented.

  24. #24 |  Billy Beck | 

    “…what’s stopping you?”

    I don’t goddamned care. This government has priced me completely out of that market.

  25. #25 |  Alex | 

    perlhaq (#9), FUCK YOU.

    Fuck you and all the “libertarians” on here that think social workers have no useful skills. Fuck you pitiful kids reading Rand in your parents’ basement who have never seen a dysfunctional crack addicted couple with 6 kids they’re trying to keep for the welfare payments. Fuck you losers who think a mentally handicapped 10 yr old with mentally handicapped parents is too unimportant for you to pay a few cents a year to have a decent mentor. Consider the current sate of our government. Consider who has statuatory authority to free these kids from the hell they live in. Now, after you’ve considered that, if you disagree with all my sympathies, FUCK YOU.

    Marta (#20), “I’ve also never noticed private citizens with power and resources beating down the doors to solve these problems either.” I have. In the last few cities I’ve lived in (a long list, can’t remember before), the largest homeless shelters and soup kitchens were run by churches. I live a quite life in the sticks now, but my last place was downtown in a large city. I regularly saw flyers for an employment program provided by a church that would give you clothes, a cot, and an interview. If mental wards are provided by the state, what more could you want a private charity to do? And really, if you were pennyless tomorrow, would you go to a church, the Salvation Army, or a government agency?

  26. #26 |  Marta Rose | 

    damaged justice:

    Do you really believe that taxation is stealing? I understand perfectly that libertarians believe it is very poor policy and not a good means to ends that you believe private charity and the market would do a better job of accomplishing. But how is it stealing? I mean, if you could convince enough people to either amend the constitution, or just elect majorities in congress that agree with you, your policies re: taxation would get enacted, right? And you know what? I’m someone who is open-minded and willing to be convinced (which is why I’m reading this blog in the first place), though swearing at me and accusing me of stealing is probably not the best way to go about it.



    Brian: I agree perfectly, the bureaucrat was an idiot, and a vindictive one at that, and even if the letter of some stupid law required him to do what he did, he could have found a way around it. I also agree that having a perfect solution is not a pre-requisite to critiquing a current policy that is not working. It was more the reference to “charity of private citizens” both in Radley’s post and in the comments that set me off. I’m just not at all convinced.



  27. #27 |  Ben | 

    But how is it stealing?

    There are shades of gray to consider here. Some taxation is not stealing. Money that goes toward roads and services are not, in general, stealing.

    However, taxes that go to pay vindictive and stupid ‘public servants’ is tantamount to theft. There are so many programs that either do not benifit the population or go toward repressing freedom that, in general, I think taxation could be categorized as stealing.

  28. #28 |  Bill | 

    Okay, I know I’ll get a lot of love for this one, but it seems to me that the outrage shouldn’t be primarily directed at the bureaucrat, but rather at the policy, if in fact there is a reason for outrage at all. Do you believe that these vendor permits should be abolished? That there should be an exemption for people below a certain income level? Personally, I’d be fine with either of those.

    Yes, the attitude and lack of knowledge of those enforcing the requirement were pretty appalling, but I don’t think that the answer is for them to look the other way and give some people special treatment–because that’s what NOT enforcing the rules for particular people would amount to–because I guarantee you that the primary recipients of that will not be the hard-working homeless guys. They’ll be the politicians, the bureaucrats’ cousins, and the bent cops looking for a little extra income “on the side”.

  29. #29 |  Marta Rose | 


    The entirety of my experience with those living in poverty and with the homeless — which is pretty extensive — is through my church. Well, that and my neighborhood. I think churches and other places of worship have an important role in caring for the poor, and I don’t get why more of us don’t do it, given that Jesus calls Christians to that more often than anything else. To me, caring for those on the margins is the central message of the Gospel. But my church is one of just a handful here in Philadelphia that provides shelter to the homeless, and food and clothing every Saturday, and programming for a handful of amazing kids in the summer and after school. And yes, if every church saw ministering to the poor as its central mission, government could get out of the business entirely. But alas, most Christians are focused on other missions (like keeping me and my partner — who has also spent years ministering with the poor — from getting married….), and it would be a terrible day for the poor people I care about if government stopped caring for them entirely, and left it to the churches. Look, I’m not opposed to private charity — my partner and I give 10% of our gross income to our church, and most of that goes to caring for the poor — but I’m not at all convinced that most of you all, or most of any of us, would be willing to give 10% off the top, consistently, in good times and especially in bad, to help the poor, even if you paid almost no taxes. I just don’t see that ethic among most people, and honestly, especially not among folks who lean conservative. That’s just my experience, as I say, I’m open to persuasion. So while I will never be happy with government bureaucracy (remind me to tell you someday about how we had to break into a neighborhood playground that had been locked shut for years and used only by the drug dealers, and then squat for months before we could get the city to let it be “officially” open, even though we had promises directly from our city council rep, who met with us and the kids and still didn’t follow through … believe me, I know from stupid idiot government bureaucrats), I still am convinced that government must have a central role in caring for those who are most marginalized. I’m very open to thinking about new ways government could play that role more effectively, but it’ll be a pretty hard sell to convince me that government should get out of the business entirely.



  30. #30 |  Marta Rose | 

    Ben, I get that you think it’s really bad policy. But I don’t see how it’s stealing in any constitutional or legal sense. And obviously a lot of people disagree with you about the bad policy too.



  31. #31 |  Jon | 

    “Having spent a lot of time with people living in poverty, I’ve never been too impressed with government solutions, but I’ve also never noticed private citizens with power and resources beating down the doors to solve these problems either.”

    Uh….who do you think GAVE him the money in the first place???????

  32. #32 |  David | 

    There’s no reason to a person can’t be outraged at both at the policy and the person enforcing it. I have to wonder about the sort or personality who sees a heartwarming story on the news and has his mind immediate run to “there’s a rule being broken! Fees that need collecting!”.

    Although, now that I think of it, I’ve met quite a few and bureaucracy (both public and private) is their domain.

  33. #33 |  Curt | 

    Thankfully stories like this shouldn’t be common as the stimulus plan starts to take full effect. As the government continues to grow, cities will be able to hire a full-time workforce whose duties include going around and checking the business permits of any shoe-shiners, mimes, and various street artists. Additionally, the city will also hire people to collect property tax from him on the space occupied by his cardboard mat.

    Of course, since newspapers are going broke, the government will own them soon enough and you’ll be required to buy them. That way they can ensure that the news you read is about how the government saved us from the dangers of an improper shoe shine from an unlicensed vendor.

    Just think of all the new jobs that can be created and the resulting drop in unemployment!!!!! The gentleman in this story could get one of those jobs… if he wasn’t guilty of shining shoes without a license.

  34. #34 |  Jim Collins | 

    How about blaming the City Government who passed the law requiring the sidewalk permit in the first place?

  35. #35 |  Cynical in CA | 

    I don’t see what the fuss is all about. Why should he be exempt from government intrusion when everyone else has to take it in the ass? When someone posts my sob story about my tax and regulatory burden, I’ll expect a similar lack of sympathy.

    It’s not a line-item menu, folks — when there’s government, you get all the putrescence along with the “security” and “protection.”

  36. #36 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “… who have never seen a dysfunctional crack addicted couple with 6 kids they’re trying to keep for the welfare payments…. Consider who has statuatory authority to free these kids from the hell they live in.”

    Closing the circle. Where did the incentive to have six kids come from except from government? Then, government grants itself the authority to free the kids. Very nice. Really justifies everything.

    Government is the ultimate crack dealer — the first taste is not only free, they pay you to take it!

  37. #37 |  Zargon | 

    I don’t see how it’s stealing in any constitutional or legal sense.

    It’s not stealing in the constitutional or legal sense. That would be extremely confusing, because taxation is created and enforced by the government, making it by definition legal. “Legal” means what the government says it means.

    But you will find some here (including myself) who say taxation is stealing in a moral sense. The reasoning is really very simple. The government says I either give them a huge stack of money every year, or my home (among other things) will be taken from me, and/or I’ll be locked in a cage, or I’ll be shot if I object to either of those two aforementioned outcomes. A thief is one who takes other people’s stuff by force or by threat of force, and what the government does is exactly that.

    Some will say it matters what the government does with the money after I begrudgingly hand it over to avoid a messy end. I’ll admit that I’m less upset about the government spending my money on, say, fire departments than hiring additional thieves like the one in the article. In the end, however, it doesn’t matter whether a thief spends his ill-gotten gains on luxury yachts, feeding orphans, or even fruit baskets delivered back to the victim, a thief is still a thief.

    And obviously a lot of people disagree with you about the bad policy too.

    What’s legal may depend (somewhat) on the opinion of the masses, but what’s moral does not.

  38. #38 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Taxation is stealing. This is an incontrovertible fact.

    If I came up to you and put a gun in your face and demanded $100, it is a crime.

    If the government does the same, somehow it is all excused under some hocus-pocus called the “social contract,” “democracy,” or some other rank bullshit.

    Even if the stolen money (taxation) is used to cure cancer, it is still theft. The purpose of the theft is irrelevant. It is the involuntary nature of the exchange that is relevant.

    Any transfer of property without BOTH just compensation and the permission of the owner is theft, which is a crime.

    This is not hard to understand — I put it at about the 4-year-old level, maybe younger. In fact, one can support taxation as necessary and still admit that it is theft (the human condition is such that theft by society at large from the individual is essential for society’s survival, Holmes’ famous dictum that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, or “in order to save the village we had to destroy it.”).

    It is those that try to deny reality that are the true enablers of the State. Look, if you’re going to hold me up at gunpoint and take my money, at least leave me the dignity of admitting that you’re a criminal instead of telling me it’s for my own good. Sheesh.

  39. #39 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Darn you Zargon for posting one second ahead of me!

  40. #40 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #21 | Brian — “… there’s a huge difference between not having a good solution for helping the homeless and actively trying to prevent the success of a homeless person who is turning his life around.”

    The bureaucrat would argue that fairness dictates equal application of the law regardless of circumstance. What of the other sidewalk vendors who are already buckling under the regulatory burden? How would they feel if the homeless guy got a pass?

    The bureaucrat might further argue that by imposing a monetary burden on the homeless vendor, that would encourage him to earn more money and thus the experience makes him a better competitor in the “market.”

    Last, the bureaucrat would say that by living up to his statutory obligations, the homeless vendor can be proud to be living within the “law” and is a good, “law”-abiding citizen with a clear conscience who pays his debts to society.

    See, even though I am a radical anti-statist, I can argue either side. That’s the beauty of the State, force justifies anything.

  41. #41 |  Windy | 

    Marta Rose #20 If government schools didn’t teach that government is the only answer, and if government (all levels) didn’t take such a huge portion of one’s income, and make things so damn difficult to pull oneself up with their own bootstraps (or provide help to those who are trying), there would be a lot more private help for the homeless from individuals and charitable enterprises. Government is almost always the problem and very seldom a solution.

    As for why most forms of taxation is theft, well:
    Government should be charging fees for the services it provides — gas tax for road upkeep, fees for using parks, etc. — those fees should cover the full costs of providing the service including the salaries of those government employees and contractors who provide the service.

    But the taking of people’s income for various payroll taxes and the IRS, and the charge of yearly rent on land one ostensibly “owns”, all taken at the point of a gun (just try not paying and see what happens, if you don’t think it is at the point of a gun) is theft, regardless if “the people voted for it”, especially if it is for any “charitable purposes”, but for ANYTHING government has no Constitutional authority to do. It is just as much theft when a group uses the power of government to steal money from my income for their special interest as it is for an individual on the street to stick a gun in my back and demand the money from my wallet so he can feed his family.

    There were many discussions about this in the early years of our nation in private and in congress you should read Davey Crockett’s speech to congress on this subject (among others). The Constitution limits the power of government to do most of the things it does with our tax dollars, and those early members of congress knew and understood that, and they prevented it, later congress didn’t stop it, and things really got out of hand in the 20th century. Really read the Declaration, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and the debates in congress from the early years and learn what our government is REALLY allowed to do and what it is not.

  42. #42 |  perlhaqr | 

    Marta: but I’m not at all convinced that most of you all, or most of any of us, would be willing to give 10% off the top, consistently, in good times and especially in bad, to help the poor, even if you paid almost no taxes.

    Well, I’m certainly not willing to after the various governments that claim dominion over me have finished taking their 40% haircut.

    And so what? Even if people weren’t willing to support the causes you think they should, that justifies mugging them for it?

  43. #43 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Good comment Windy. My only challenge is that even if you view certain government operations as necessary and legitimate, the monopoly aspect guarantees inefficiency and higher costs than if the operations were performed by a market organization. Thus, there is theft in these government functions as well.

    Nowhere is this more tragically evident than in government schools. And as you demonstrate in your comment, (national) government control of education was a 20th Century phenomenon in America. It is obvious the early Americans abhorred national control of education.

  44. #44 |  supercat | 

    //I can’t believe such a thing would happen in a city populated by people who proudly boast of how compassionate they are and how the primary mission of man (and government) should be to help his fellow man.//

    The bureaucrats “love” the homeless, which is to say they want them to be as numerous as possible and must fight against anything that might reduce their numbers.

  45. #45 |  Frank | 

    #41 Even worse. Government is a problem masquerading as it’s own solution. (Hat tip to L. Neil Smith).

  46. #46 |  Gmac | 

    What this was really about was punishing success.

  47. #47 |  h3 | 

    The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.

    – Eugene McCarthy, Time magazine, Feb. 12, 1979

    I hope that bitch will receive similar “education” in a near future.

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