Business Licensing Makes It Too Easy for Politicians To Punish People They Don't Like

Incensed by scenes of people celebrating the end (official or otherwise) of coronavirus lockdowns, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently threatened to strip bars and restaurants of their licenses if they don't enforce social-distancing rules. There was no hint of due process in his message, just the prospect of establishments that allegedly break rules losing government-issued permission to do business—and another stark reminder that requiring people to get licenses turns making a living from a right into a privilege and puts people under the thumb of the state.
The governor's threat to deprive people of permission to make a living was explicit.
"Now we're getting reports from all across the state that there are large gatherings, social distancing is being violated, people are not wearing masks. We have gotten 25,000 complaints to the State of businesses that are in violation of the reopening plan—25,000 complaints," Cuomo snarled earlier this week. "A bar or restaurant that is violating these rules can lose their liquor license. State Liquor Authority inspectors are out. We have a task force of State investigators who are out. You can lose your liquor license and that is a big deal for a bar or restaurant."
In what was a typical Cuomo tantrum, the governor also threatened people drinking in public and unmasked protesters with fines "for open container and social distancing violations."
In those cases, though, he has to settle for using the criminal justice system and its (admittedly limited) safeguards to impose defined penalties on people whose identities the authorities may never learn. But loss of a liquor license, as he admits, "is a big deal for a bar or restaurant"—it's an arbitrarily imposed death sentence that can end the existence of any establishment that offends a thin-skinned state official.
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