“Progressives” and the Death of Mainstreet USA

The day after President Obama gave his State of the Union address, I drove through my hometown of Roseburg, Oregon. An old mill-town that once hummed with the sounds of log trucks coming and going, Roseburg is now dying. While it still deals with the overly-harsh environmental regulations on timber put forth during the Clinton Administration, it tries to make do by attracting new businesses with limited success.

A staple in the community is Pete’s Drive-In, a Roseburg institution that still proudly serves homemade fries, made from scratch each day. Just blocks from the only high school and on the main thoroughfare, Harvard Avenue, Pete’s Drive-in diner has been serving kids burgers and the best fries on the planet since 1952.

As I drove through my old town, I saw a disturbing sight; Pete’s had a sign out front saying, “Please keep us in business! Eat here!”

I swerved to park at the old diner and after ordering my food, reminisced about the good times every teenager had there. The drive-in was where me and my buddies, clad in our lettermans, blasted music out of our stereos and chatted about girls, sports and cars- the things that truly mattered in high school. It was where we pulled in for a snack as we cruised Harvard on Friday night in what we thought were our “souped-up” rides- a practice that has since been made illegal, as police will now cite any driver whose car they see too often on Harvard on a Friday or Saturday night.

It was always a hopping place; how could it be on the verge of going out of business?

In a word: because of “progress.”

The night prior, I had listened to Obama’s speech about how we must raise the minimum wage. “Tonight,” Obama began, “let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”

Sounds great. But why stop there? Let’s raise the costs of everything and declare that burger-flippers now make 75K a year and get to drive a company car.

That’s how “progressives” think. Never mind that the business will have to either pass the costs onto the consumer or must lay-off people to stay afloat- the important thing is that those who don’t lose their jobs get paid $9.00 an hour.

But even they get a raw deal because while their pay check gets slightly larger, it doesn’t go as far. The property managers at their apartments must now pay the lawn maintenance guy $9.00, so rent goes up. The grocery store they frequent has to pay the baggers more, so the price of groceries goes up. The gas station must now pay the attendants more, and so… well, you get the picture.

That’s what happened at Pete’s. Every year, Oregon raises their minimum wage. The costs of everything then go up, and the politicians in Salem have earned themselves an entire year of telling the citizens of the Beaver State that they are looking out for the poor people- despite the fact that they are doing anything but.

That means the cost of cheese goes up. The cost of meat goes up. The cost of everything goes up, and with less money in peoples’ pockets due to a bad economy, people can no longer afford the greatest burger and fries in the world.

The lady who served me noted that everyone else had been laid off. Pete’s Drive-In is now run by three employees: the owner, his wife and her sister. Like I said, businesses must choose between raising prices and laying-off employees. Pete’s chose the latter.

This is more than a sappy story about my hometown. This is about all of our hometowns- big and small. It is about the slow demise of Mainstreet USA that is dying so that politicians can tell America that they did something for the poor. It’s about progressives and their unwillingness to embrace even the simplest, most basic economic reasoning. Wealth is not created by simply paying more; wealth is created by government getting out of the way and allowing the private sector to create opportunity.

Though it’s been around for over 60 years, I doubt Pete’s can withstand Obama’s brand of “change” for another four years. So get your fresh, homemade fries while you can.

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