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Just leave the street vendors alone!
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Governments at all levels are called upon to do their utmost to ensure sound economic growth and employment. Sometimes inaction can help too.

Well-known commentator Cao Jingxing recently suggested in a television program that, in tackling the worsening unemployment problem, local governments can do a salutary service by loosening controls over street vendors.

Cao recommended that vendors should be simply allowed to operate their businesses, and proper licensing should be dispensed with.

Today most small vendors in big cities have to watch out for the chengguan (urban management teams) while plying their business.

It's amazing to see how vendors scatter at the mere sight of any chengguan personnel or vehicles.

To ensure their mobility, vendors take care that all their stuff can be packed up and carted away at a moment's warning. But licensed vendors suffer too.

In Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, the city authority recently decreed that all the 1,241 grocery kiosks across the city be eliminated in an effort to spruce up. This move provoked public outrage, and one distraught kiosk owner attempted suicide last week.

Before this, her family of four (including two jobless children) had wrung their livelihood from the small revenue from the kiosk, selling drinks and telephone cards, after turning in 35,000 yuan (US$5,000) to local chengguan in annual fees.

Ironically, these kiosks were initially set up as a part of a measure to "do something practical for the people" a few years ago, and this undoubtedly went down well with residents.

But authorities apparently are not satisfied with merely doing something practical in an age when nearly all cities are in a race to undergo face-lifts.

As suggested by the victim's family, a small stand can keep a whole family afloat.

Unless compelled by circumstances, no family with the right connections and means would ever think of going into the vending business.

These people are usually among the most needy, and thus vulnerable, segment of the society, whose will to subsist on honest labor in adversity deserves stalwart government support, not a crackdown.

Migrants workers are called to launch business startups. Why don't we start by legalizing street vendors?

I for one would heartily approve of setting up breakfast snack stands on every street to cater to harried commuters.

The major objections to such stands is sanitation.

But these problems can be effectively solved if they are assigned fixed locations and settle down, thus having no need to flee from chengguan.

(Shanghai Daily March 11, 2009)

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