You Can Keep Your Van if You Like It

The last of Volkswagen’s iconic vans will roll off a VW production line in Brazil later this year:

Safety regulations mandate that every vehicle in Brazil must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems starting in 2014, and the company says it cannot change production to meet the law.

Vw_bus_t1_v_sst

My issue with the end of the VW van is effectively the same as an issue with the Affordable Care Act. By mandating the one-size-fits-all solution (in this case, that every car have air bags and anti-lock braking), it’s not just innovation that’s lost, it’s products that people like and are willing to buy despite not having Important Safety Features That Experts Agree Are Necessary. We unfortunately lose many choices we might like because someone else has decided we need something else even more.

Brazilian lawmakers could trumpet this safety equipment as a lifesaver while simultaneously crowing that the change would not affect commercial production of any popular products. They’d be wrong on the last part, of course, but because the cascading effects in the economics of these situations makes it a challenge for most people to piece together causes and effects, they retain plausible deniability.

In the case of the Affordable Care Act’s claimed lack of any substantive impact on every single last doggone insurance plan, when an insurer or employer makes the calculation that offering certain insurance products (or offering them to certain low-productivity employees) won’t be profitable, ACA supporters get to grouse to their fans that these companies are emblems of vanishing public spiritedness and the entrepreneur’s crass focus on the bottom line.

In any case, wouldn’t you love to drive one of these things?

Did ObamaCare Shutter Lynn’s?

Like many other current and former Louisvillians, I’ve spent much of this afternoon reading reactions to the surprise closure of Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, one of the Ville’s most popular breakfast/brunch spots for two decades. I lived two blocks from Lynn’s for several years and I’m certain I contributed enough cash to help buy Lynn a few more Lay-Z-Boys. For that, I feel perhaps a bit justified in admitting this much: On a few hungover mornings, I probably snagged a few free cups of coffee from the large outdoor coffee dispenser implicitly reserved for waiting customers. There was always a line to get a seat at Lynn’s at brunch, so my thievery was likely never noticed.

The circumstances of the closure are quite odd. I’m sure as facts begin to emerge, we’ll get a better sense of what happened. The early read-between-the-lines narratives of the conflict seem to go something like this:

Why might Lynn be totally correct? A few reasons, though I’ll happily admit that I could be misreading the evidence presented thus far.

First, under ObamaCare’s state-initiated health insurance exchanges, employers could have to pay the IRS thousands of dollars for every employee to whom the employer fails to offer health insurance. Ah, but that’s got nothing to do with how employees get tipped, I hear you cry. Maybe. Maybe not. After all, employees typically pay for a portion of their own health insurance. And in a food-service industry where paychecks often come out to $0.00, that might well be a critical factor.

Second, Lynn’s COO Patty Schnatter told WAVE3 news that a new policy of requiring waiters/waitresses to carry $100 in order to tip out the rest of the waitstaff at the end of the evening was driven by the desire to make it easier for employees to file taxes at the end of the year and buy into insurance.

All of what I’ve just said is subject to revision since this is a very fresh story, but there are at least a few reasons to believe that a popular Louisville landmark’s closure is attributable to the health care policies championed and signed into law by President Obama.

If you have thoughts, please leave them in the comments.

UPDATE (01/13/12 08:00AM): I was asked how many people worked at Lynn’s. It’s a relevant question because ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act) has certain triggers for employers with 15 employees and 50 employees or full-time equivalents. According to Winter, she employed 85 people, though it’s not clear how many were full-time equivalents. The point here is that the ObamaCare “tax” on employers who do not succeed at providing health insurance was likely among the front-and-center issues driving this whole conflict.

Another UPDATE: Steve Coomes argues the requirements for servers to tip out other workers with a revolving cash “bank” isn’t that big of a deal.