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Superman Arrested... For Not Having a License

Anthony Randazzo
July 10, 2009, 10:39am

Times Square is home to many gimmicks and freak shows, but tourists in the Big Apple got a unique spectacle last night when New York's finest took down capped wonder, Superman. The story is a bit different from the comics, in this tale, Superman is the alter ego of Maksim Katsnelson from the Bronx, not Krypton. And instead of stopping him from saving the life of a little girl, or stopping an out of control taxi, the NYPD took down Katsnelson for... panhandling.

Any visitor to Times Square will encounter at least one, if not a dozen costumed characters wandering around, looking for cash in exchange for pictures or hugs. When I lived in Midtown a few years ago I basically became friends with two Elmos that frequented the pavement. It's like Disney World, only the characters themselves are the capitalists. What parent can resist forking over $10 bucks to let their begging, captivated child get a picture with Batman (who, incidentally, was also arrested yesterday).

The problem is that New York requires such costumed panhandlers to have a license to walk around exchanging moments of fun for a few dollars here and there. You wouldn't know it, but many of the famous NYC subway performers that often appear to just be homeless, down on their luck musicians, are registered with the City.

When the NYPD approached Katsnelson aka Superman to ask if he and his pal Batman had a license to walk around Times Square, a fight broke out. Reportedly, Superman punched a female cop in the face—most out of character for the Man of Steel. Now, while this lawless behavior should not be condoned, there is a very real question for why this kind of occupational licensing law exists? Why do you need a permit from the city to take pictures with people and have them express their gratitude for making their kids happy with a few greenbacks?

Without the licensing requirement, there would be less barriers to entry for this kind of practice. There would probably be a few more costumed characters in Times Square, but that would just lower the price for tourists. And only so many Big Birds and Joe Bidens can work a sidewalk. This would also mean people could take up the practice causally, traipsing down to Midtown every now and then for some fun and spending cash. (What other things you do with the Megatron outfit when you're not defending New York's tourists from decepticons is your own business.)

In addition to letting more people do this and lowering the cost to tourists, there would be a decreased costs to the City, because NYPD would no longer have to check on occupational licenses, or waste their time taking Superman down to the station for panhandling. And that is less people crowing the prison system. There are plenty of other things police can be focused on, like this stuff.

More from Reason on occupational licensing here and here.


Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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