In a curious case of how national political issues can be reflected locally, Evanston residents this week have seen free trade win out — at least temporarily — over what might be attacked as crony capitalism.
After complaints about showing favoritism toward in-town bakeries, city officials reversed course and decided to let out-of-town bakers sell their wares again this year at the downtown farmers market.
The favoratism for the in-town bakeries is baked into the the city code — but officials had not enforced the rule in recent years as residents showed their growing interest in having a wider array of non-produce vendors at the market.
Now the city manager has proposed a broader review for next year of what the scope of offerings at the market will be along with the prospect of city code revisions to match what's on the books to whatever the new consensus becomes.
Were local officials to follow the logic of the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, who wants to raise high tariff barriers against foreign imports, they'd probably shut down the farmers market entirely. Why let in farmers from out of state, when there are perfectly good supermarkets with produce sections in Evanston that pay local property and sales taxes?
If the farmers market is overwhelmed with bakers, or any other type of vendor — perhaps the fees should be raised to help balance supply with demand and generate more revenue for the city.
Another Evanston city code provision that bakes in barriers to free trade and consumer choice is the ban on food trucks not operated by owners of Evanston-based bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
We'll have to see how that review — and the planning for next year's farmers market — play out.
Will consumer choice win, or protectionist impulses toward incumbent businesses?
No one would want local restaurants devastated by a swarm of food trucks — but the current total ban on out-of-town trucks doesn't strike the right balance to give consumers a full range of dining choices.