For those of you who believe that businesses can be suspended or micromanaged by the government indefinitely, for any reason, including trying to break the circuit of COVID-19 infection, I’d counter with one word: Jangmadang.
“Jangmadang” is the name given to the black market economy that’s popped up in North Korea.
That’s right: In the most repressive state on Earth, a place described as the world’s largest open-air prison where you can be shot for possessing a Bible or jailed for watching a South Korean DVD, a thriving black market has existed since the 1990s where everything from food to Nikes to mobile phones to laptops can be purchased with relative ease.
In fact, the black market is so pervasive that North Korean millennials are referred to as the “Jangmadang Generation.” In the shadow of a regime that would sic the dogs of the state upon them and tear out their innards if it suited its fancy, millennials still buy and use the same products people anywhere else do. They just do so at the risk of being thrown into the world’s most brutal prison system.
The reason they’re able to avoid this is simple: The state doesn’t have the resources to clamp down upon it and while it would likely survive a revolt by surly millennials, that kind of unrest isn’t what Pyongyang needs right now.
Of course, the Jangmadang Generation doesn’t have any other choice but to go to these black market vendors. There isn’t a parallel capitalist structure that’s available to them. In New York City, there is one and it’s functional-ish at the moment, a time when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “micro-cluster” strategy has shut down indoor dining in the city and made it difficult for businesses to remain open.
And make no mistake — while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t much get along with Gov. Cuomo, his city’s enforcers have been more than willing to crack down on mom-and-pop stores they think are breaking the rules.
But meanwhile, illegal street vendors are popping up everywhere — and apparently, de Blasio’s apparatchiks either don’t have the will or the ability to do anything about it.
Warren Wilhelm, Jr. aka Bill DeBlasio is ruining New York.
Illegal Street Vendors “Overtaking” NYC And The Entire City is Blaming Bill De Blasiohttps://t.co/vd9BFwrOyQ
— Bob Dobalena (@dobalena_bob) December 28, 2020
According to a Saturday report by the New York Post, “[i]llegal street peddlers hawking such items have taken over the outer boroughs, clogging sidewalks with their second-hand wares and pulling customers from pandemic-ravaged mom-and-pop shops.
It’s not just that the vendors are hawking stuff on the street, though. It’s what they’re selling: “Live crabs. Bras with rhinestones,” the Post reported. “Old shoes. Frayed electrical cords. Knock-off Louis Vuitton clutches. Disposable face masks. Mets caps.”
Nobody particularly cares if you’re selling knock-off Louis Vuitton clutches or Mets ephemera, although frayed wires and live crabs of dubious provenance are generally considered problematic.
That’s not even the biggest issue, though. As anyone who’s been in NYC knows, there are plenty of street peddlers to be found. They’re licensed, however, and the licenses are limited so as to not create too much competition for mom-and-pop stores.
The Post went to the Bronx, where a multitude of street vendors have popped up, to see how many of them were licensed.
“On Main, between Sanford and 41st Avenue, The Post counted 27 street vendors – on just one side of the street. Two pulled out yellow licenses, showing they’re military veterans. Six shook their heads like they didn’t understand English. The others turned away or looked down when asked to show their licenses,” the newspaper reported.
In New York City, disabled veterans are exempt from licensing requirements for street vendors. Other than that, however, the situation looked grim. According to the Post, an estimate from DianSong Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, was that 90 percent of the vendors currently hawking goods aren’t licensed.
On Main Street in the Bronx, the Post noted that the number of licensed vendors is capped at 853. And yet, there’s a raft of illegal vendors, bleeding mom-and-pop businesses that have been hurt by a maze of coronavirus regulations.
And then there are those crabs; the Post described hawkers selling them in “wooden bushels three high,” with each crab being sold for a dollar. If that seems cheap, consider that there doesn’t seem to be any authority that can attest to food safety — or even whether the crabs are being legally sold.
Here’s how the Post describes the bureaucracy: “New York state allows crabbing in the waters around Queens, but has restrictions on the size and number of catches. It issues permits for large hauls.
“But the regulating agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, doesn’t require a retail permit to sell the crabs. The city Health Department licenses mobile food vendors, who can’t sell raw seafood, but doesn’t monitor the street peddlers.”
One man described to the Post how his wife got sick after eating crab legs she’d purchased from a vendor. He told the newspaper he found worms in the bellies of the discarded crabs. The city Health Department is investigating.
“I was an illegal vendor,” the husband, now a licensed vendor, told the Post. “I can understand, if you can go out and sell. Why not? But the situation is out of hand – outrageously out of hand.”
So, why is this on de Blasio? Well, in early June, he decided that the New York Police Department shouldn’t be cracking down on illegal vendors, according to the Post.
It was “part of a package of policy changes he announced after more than a week of violent Black Lives Matter protests,” the Post reported.
Thus, you get this.
Legal businesses aren’t so lucky, however.
On Nov. 8 — as uncontrolled celebrations broke out across New York City due to the fact the media declared Joe Biden was the winner of the presidential election — this is what New York City authorities were doing to a craft store owner who was in her shop putting together packages to ship out:
Last night, as thousands of New Yorkers partied in the streets, sheriffs entered this pottery shop, owned by a single mom of five.
With no income coming into her “red zone” business, the owner was harassed while preparing craft kits to sell for the upcoming holiday. pic.twitter.com/mgjuGK0YEM
— Councilman Deutsch (@ChaimDeutsch) November 8, 2020
Ilena Cagan, owner of Pottery and Glass Land in Flatbush, Brooklyn, told Jewish outlet Vos Iz Neias that authorities were acting on a tip she was holding a class while her business was in a red zone — which meant all “nonessential businesses,” like hers, needed to be closed.
“I told them to look around,” Cagan told the Jewish news site Voz Iz Neias. “There was no one there but me.”
“They were all making parties last night and I had the head lieutenant of whatever precinct waiting for me,” she added.
“It was as if I had pounds and pounds of drugs in my store with the amount of people that showed up. It wasn’t just regular building department inspectors — it was sheriffs with a list of people to target.”
This is what they do to legitimate businesses. The black market, however — that thrives in a New York City that can’t, or won’t, control it.
New York City isn’t North Korea, but the point is that no matter how you lock down your city, people will find a way to live their lives.
The city doesn’t have indoor dining out of fear COVID-19 might spread. Instead, it has unregulated outdoor markets with $1 crabs.
It harasses a business owner who said she was there because “it’s about paying my bills.” When it comes to street vendors, however, the mayor tells police not to enforce the law.
Instead of keeping on with this profoundly dysfunctional way of running a city, why not open it back up?
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