Street vendors are fixtures in many developing countries. Unlicensed street vendors have tried to crowd around the World Cup venues in Brazil. The spark for the Arab Spring was the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, protesting police harassment. These aren’t the only cities that struggle to regulate informal commerce: most cities ban or limit street vending because it can undercut formal businesses, block traffic, and create health and safety risks. But these laws aren’t always enforced.
Conventional wisdom is that governments in the developing world lack the budgets to fund and train officials to stop street vending. Yet many cities with the resources to enforce, like Santiago, Chile, still have rampant street vending problems in some neighborhoods.
From a political perspective this is not surprising, however, because enforcement has important distributive consequences. Street vendors don’t pay business taxes and rents to sell goods in busy areas. Governments provide a substantial—although informal—form of welfare when they allow street vendors to work unchecked. In Lima, Peru, for example, vendors say that the ability to sell on central city streets is worth about $1,560 per year to them. In contrast, the largest formal welfare program in the city transfers only around $115 to poor families. (...)
[P]oliticians in Latin American cities make choices about informal welfare benefits, such as the tolerance of street vending, in much the same way that they do about formal welfare provision in more advanced democracies. Where mayors need the support of poor voters to win elections, they are more likely to let vendors stay on the streets, even if they anger middle-class groups. (...)
I expect that politicians who draw their main support from poor voters are less likely to enforce street vending regulations. To see this, take the case of Bogotá, Colombia. The bars in the figure below show the number of operations against vendors by mayoral administration. Starting in 2003, mayors have drawn their strongest electoral support from poor voters. Enforcement has plummeted.
Of course, it’s possible that the conventional wisdom is right and that these days the Bogotá city government can’t control street vending due to resource constraints. However, the budget allocated to the police has increased in recent years (...). Even with greater funds to put toward enforcement, mayors have been explicit in their rejection of operations. As former mayor Luis Garzón put it, he was “not going to tell the police to repress.”
The Distributive Politics of Enforcement, por Alisha Holland, no American Journal of Political Science (artigo de acesso restrito):
Why do some politicians tolerate the violation of the law? In contexts where the poor are the primary violators of property laws, I argue that the answer lies in the electoral costs of enforcement: Enforcement can decrease support from poor voters even while it generates support among nonpoor voters. Using an original data set on unlicensed street vending and enforcement operations at the subcity district level in three Latin American capital cities, I show that the combination of voter demographics and electoral rules explains enforcement. Supported by qualitative interviews, these findings suggest how the intentional nonenforcement of law, or forbearance, can be an electoral strategy. Dominant theories based on state capacity poorly explain the results.
Será que faz sentido considerar a tolerância perante a venda de rua sem licença como "fornecer" assistência social? Por um lado, pode-se considerar que não - afinal é diferente o Estado fazer alguma coisa (como acontece nos programas de assistência social) ou simplesmente deixar de fazer alguma coisa (como acontece quando não reprime a venda de rua), mesmo que os beneficiários sejam os mesmos (neste caso, as pessoas mais pobres); por outro lado, pode-se considerar que o Estado é o dono das ruas, e portanto ao deixar os vendedores de rua trabalharem lá está efetivamente a lhes "dar" alguma coisa (isto talvez seja mais um caso da ambiguidade da distinção entre direitos negativos e positivos?).
Um artigo que escrevi há uns anos que parece não ter nada a ver com isto, mas se calhar até tem - Esquerda, direita e liberalismo.