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Restaurant recovery voter guide: Charleston County Council District 7

Candidate: Sean R. Thornton

Party: Libertarian

Has Thornton ever worked in a restaurant? Yes

Sean R. Thornton

Sean R. Thornton. Provided

First-ever favorite restaurant: McDonald's. You can play in the jungle gym if you finish your chicken nuggets!

Most recent restaurant experience: I ordered a pizza from Famulari's last night and had leftovers for lunch today. I will have more leftovers tomorrow.

COMPENSATION

Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour?

No because it will not have the intended effect, or unintended consequences are likely and significant. This is a form of price control, and price controls have long since been conclusively proven by the laws of economics to always result in shortages and harm to consumers.

Specifically, in this case, by fixing the price of wages above the rate naturally determined by the supply and demand in the market, there will be a shortage of jobs. Thus those able to find employment may be more comfortable, but they will be so at the expense of others who will no longer be able to find work.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding restaurant worker pay?

I would encourage the treatment of tips as gifts, since that is what they actually are, which would then render them unreportable for income taxation — lower taxation is equivalent to higher pay.

Furthermore, although not specifically related to wages, my program for zoning and municipal service reform would decrease traffic, commute times and overall tax burden for county residents, thus further relieving strain on restaurant workers’ budgets.

Finally, although on County Council I would have no direct control over it, I would use my influence to encourage the city of Charleston to drop the 2 percent hospitality tax.

This tax does not benefit residents in any way — it is required by law to be spent only on tourist attractions — but it does discourage restaurant patronage, as all taxes discourage use of the goods or services on which they are levied. Restaurant workers also pay this tax when they dine out, so again, this action would further reduce their burdens.

OUTDOOR DINING

Do you support encouraging or incentivizing outdoor dining through measures such as tax credits, grants or a streamlined permitting process?

No because it violates my core principles or beliefs, specifically I do not believe it is the business of government to meddle in the natural functioning of the marketplace, picking winners and losers and burdening smaller businesses with costly and cumbersome regulation.

Restaurants should have maximum freedom to cater to their specific customers’ preferences, be it dining indoors, outdoors, on the roof, underground, in close proximity to or distant from other patrons, etc.

Furthermore, taxes should not be so high that credits can be used as incentives, and there should not be a permitting or licensing process at all.

A restaurant’s reputation is sufficient to ward off any dangers allegedly prevented by permits and licenses — diners will not visit unsanitary restaurants, for example, which would quickly force such establishments out of business, and force others to improve, particularly in this modern age with public review services such as Yelp.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding restaurant capacity?

I would eliminate all restrictions on restaurant capacity and let market dynamics and individual preferences and risk tolerances decide.

If patrons prefer the buzz of activity in high-density restaurants to the ease of reaching the fire exits, that should be their choice to make. If patrons tend to be more fearful of disease and prefer low-capacity restaurants, then those whose business model relies on packing customers in will naturally fade away.

There is no need for government to step in and manage what individual action is able to manage perfectly well on its own.

FOOD INSECURITY

Do you support contracting with local restaurants to produce nutritious, no-cost meals for low-income residents?

No because it violates my core principles or beliefs, specifically, again, it is not the business of government to meddle in the natural functioning of the marketplace.

Restaurants should be free to work directly with charities to provide food for those in need, if that is their choice, as Panera Bread already does. Any involvement by the government will come at a cost to taxpayers, but taxpayers should also be free to use their money on the charities of their choice.

Low-income residents are among said taxpayers, since they pay the same rate of local sales tax as everyone else, so this would in effect be robbing them only to pay them back in the form of a meal and a wasteful middleman.

Better to just lower sales tax instead and enable low-income residents to use more of their own income as they see fit.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding food insecurity among your constituents?

I would start by eliminating the sales tax on unprepared food, as has been done at the state level and in many other counties.

Sales tax is a consumption tax, and all consumption taxes are by nature regressive in that those at the lower end of the income spectrum must necessarily consume all of their income. Since unprepared food is the barest necessity for life, a sales tax on it directly raises the threshold income level one must meet in order to avoid starvation.

Put another way, a 2 percent sales tax on unprepared food directly causes a proportional increase in starvation.

Additionally, as mentioned before, the rest of my program to reform zoning and municipal services will lower the overall burden on every citizen, including those with low incomes, who will therefore benefit the most.

SERVICE RESTRICTIONS

Do you support maintaining the 11 p.m. curfew on liquor sales at bars and restaurants for the duration of the current health crisis?

No because it violates my core principles or beliefs, specifically, once again, it is not the business of government to meddle in the natural functioning of the marketplace.

Infectious diseases do not wait around until 11:05 to infect people, so setting an arbitrary time limit like this is just laughable — it is merely security theatre, conveying the appearance of safety without actually making anyone safer.

Instead, individual risk tolerances of establishment owners, employees and patrons should determine closing time. Those individuals who fear contracting diseases for whatever reason should close their business whenever they see fit; should work at restaurants which give them the working hours for which they feel safest; should patronize bars and restaurants with procedures which make them most comfortable at whatever time they feel is best.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding restaurant and bar-specific restrictions to contain the coronavirus?

I would eliminate them all and, as stated above, allow individual preferences and risk tolerances to develop a picture of what the marketplace prefers.

The most successful restaurants and bars will then cater to those preferences. If those preferences result in an undesirable spread of infectious disease, those preferences will change and establishments can adapt accordingly.

RESTAURANT DELIVERY

Do you support creating a cap on third-party food delivery service commission fees?

No because it will not have the intended effect, or unintended consequences are likely and significant, specifically, as stated in an earlier answer, this is another form of price control and will therefore result in shortages and have a negative economic impact.

In this particular case, there will be a shortage in food delivery availability, which will be realized both in longer wait times, and fewer delivery options in general. This in turn will reduce remote customers’ overall patronage of local establishments more than remote dining already does.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding the high costs of restaurant operation?

As stated before, I will work to reduce overall taxes, permit and license requirements, and meddlesome regulation which drives up the cost of doing business.

Also my program for zoning reform would enable maximum flexibility in restaurant location, allowing restaurants to minimize rental costs and maximize proximity to customers.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

Do you support the creation of an enforcement mechanism to ensure South Carolina bars and restaurants are complying with face covering protocols?

No because it violates my core principles or beliefs, specifically, again, it is not the business of government to micromanage the marketplace.

Individual preference and risk tolerance should determine face covering protocols. If the local customer base prefers face coverings and a restaurant is a lax about them, word will get around on Yelp and that restaurant will either get its act together or close for lack of patronage.

If customers instead don’t care about face coverings and the associated rate of transmission of infectious disease, then restaurants should not be required to provide what is essentially an unwanted service to these customers. It is, after all, their body, their choice.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding the restoration of consumer confidence in restaurants?

First of all, I would stop using every other sentence to talk about infectious disease, which only reinforces fear and panic.

I would then, as stated before several times, allow individual choices to reshape the marketplace as customers desire. If their desires include safety from disease above all else, the only successful restaurants will be those which cater to that desire.

COMMERCIAL RENT

Do you support giving tax breaks to landlords who work out recovery leases for their restaurant tenants?

No because it violates my core principles or beliefs, specifically, I do not support government meddling in the natural functions of the marketplace.

If a restaurant is unable to succeed, it should make way for one which can. That being said, the rest of my answers have and will show that on the other side of the same coin, all meddlesome government barriers to restaurant success should be removed to enable as much success as possible.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding the high cost of commercial rent?

My approach to zoning reform, already mentioned elsewhere and described in more detail in the next question, by providing maximum location flexibility will tend to reduce land rents to their minimum possible level without price controls, which as I have mentioned earlier will result in shortages and other negative economic impacts.

My other policies which I have described will reduce taxes and other burdens to the greatest extent possible, making commercial establishments more able to meet rental costs.

I would also be inclined, although I have not made it a specific part of my platform, once my other policies have reduced the cost of local government to the greatest extent possible, to meet whatever necessary tax revenue remains with a land value tax instead of sales and property taxes.

This form of tax results in no negative market impacts whatsoever and entirely removes the burden of government from businesses and residents, embedding it directly in the cost of rent without actually raising rent.

The details of this form of taxation are beyond the scope of this questionnaire but have been well established, and it is used to varying extents in a few cities throughout the country. The interested reader is encouraged to read this article and the book Progress and Poverty by Henry George.

RESTAURANT STAFFING

Do you support increased investment in alternative transportation facilities and services?

No because it violates my core principles or beliefs, specifically, I would instead take the opposite approach and decrease the level of investment in traditional transportation.

Alternative methods are unpopular because they appear more expensive than traditional methods, but that appearance stems from the fact that the cost of traditional methods are hidden from view by being paid for by taxes.

Local government should pursue abandonment, a policy which turns control over and responsibility for transportation over to those who actually use said transportation, who can then fund it however they like — subscription fees, tolls (now easy to collect without booths), donations, etc.

This would reveal the true cost of current transportation methods, which, along with the profit motive created, will in turn encourage private investment in alternative methods. More details of this approach to transportation can be found in my responses to Charleston Moves’ questionnaire.

If elected, what specific actions will you take regarding ongoing staff shortages in the local restaurant sector?

In addition to democratizing transportation as described above, my plan for zoning reform will minimize traffic and maximize the location flexibility for all individuals and establishments, including restaurants and restaurant employees.

The current method of zoning was invented only a century ago and actually was used as a means of racial segregation, which it still causes, in addition to land use inefficiency, traffic congestion and pollution.

Zoning should be eliminated in favor of a voluntary, individual choice approach to land use, such as the deed covenant system used in Houston.

This system allows individual property owners full control over land use, but avoids “nightmare scenarios” like strip clubs in family neighborhoods in two ways: a) encouraging private contracts among neighbors as to how each others land should be used, and b) leveraging the natural economic laws of land values, which generally make such scenarios cost-prohibitive anyway (it is just too expensive to operate a strip club in a desirable neighborhood).

By retaining full control of land use, subject to voluntary agreements with impacted neighbors, owners and consumers have maximum flexibility and can evolve neighborhood layouts according to every permutation of individual preference, including walkability, proximity or distance to nightlife, shopping or dining, and so on.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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