January 10, 2006

Smoking Bans, Private Property, and the Free Market

Hammer of Truth reports today that New Jersey has been added to the list of states banning smoking in "public buildings." Washington is also one of these states. Philadelphia tried to pass a city ban some time ago, but I believe it failed (I'm not entirely sure). Now, there are two things I want everyone to know about these smoking bans: (1) they are unjust, because they violate the private property rights of restraunt and bar owners, and (2) they are unnecessary because, to the degree that people actually want non-smoking establishments, the free markent provides them.

I do not have a problem with prohibiting smoking on public property, such as streets and public parks. If we-the-people own the land, and we-the-people don't want to inhale smoke when we are walking around on it, then we-the-people should prohibit smoking there (but how does the government come to acquire land justly?). So far so good. But, in general, we-the-people do not own restraunts! Restraunts are owned by private individuals, very much the way you own your home. We-the-people don't get to take a vote on what you can do in your home, because it's your home, not ours. We write, for instance, indecent exposure and obscenity laws regarding public streets, because we don't want ourselves or don't want our children to see certain things. We don't tell you what you can or can't wear, not wear, or say in your home. If we did, it wouldn't be your home. This kind of distinction has been wearing away for some time in this country, but it is not altogether gone, and it must be revived if we are to retain any of our liberties. Restraunt and bar owners have the right to decide whether they will allow smoking inside their establishments, and if you don't like it you have the right to leave. Period.

Now, most of the discussion on this subject has centered around not the consumers, but the employees who are required to breath second hand smoke as part of their job. To them I say, if you don't like it, you have the right to quit. This sounds callous, I know, but the real issue is this: you are a bartender in a bar that permits smoking and you make, say, $10/hour (I have no idea how much bartenders actually make). This means that someone values an hour of your work serving drinks in a smoky room at $10. If you accepted the job, then you must believe that your life breathing second hand smoke in a bar while mixing drinks and making $10/hour is better than your life without this job (or with any other job you were offered), so, by offering to let you breathe second hand smoke in his bar, the bar owner improves your life, according to your own standards. What are you complaining about?

Now, I mentioned that the free market takes care of these things. First, let's look at it from the perspective of consumers. Many restraunt goers don't want to inhale second hand smoke. Some people won't even go to a restraunt that smells like smoke. Many more will prefer a non-smoking one over a smoking one, and perhaps even be willing to pay more for the non-smoking restraunt. As a result, before the issue was ever regulated there were many non-smoking restraunts, and non-smoking sections in larger restraunts. This has not been the case with bars. As far as I know (I don't go to bars) there are very very few non-smoking bars in the world. Apparently, there is much less demand for non-smoking bars than for restraunts. If 51% of all bar-goers wanted bars to be non-smoking, there would be all kinds of non-smoking bars out there! In fact, there are only a few. This indicates that most bar-goers don't mind the smoke, and many of them even want to be able to smoke while they drink in bars, so in these bans we must have a bunch of people who don't even go to bars legislating what people who do go to bars can and can't do when they get there. Lovely.

Now let's look at the employees perspective. As I mentioned, the employee believes that his life is better with the job than without, even if the job requires inhaling second hand smoke, or he wouldn't have taken it. It seems perfectly possible to me that in some localities the free market determines higher pay for waiters in smoking establishments compared to non-smoking establishments, because most waiters would prefer not to breathe the smoke. However, some waiter may decide that he prefers the extra money to his health. We might chide him, and say that this decision is unwise, but he nevertheless believes that his life is better facing the health risks and receiving the extra cash than not breathing smoke and getting paid less. Who is the government to tell him how to live his life and what risks he may take? If just as many people would go to restraunts and bars if they were non-smoking, and those people would pay and tip just as much, there would be very few (or no) restraunts or bars that allowed smoking, because no one would be able to make a larger profit by permitting it (since there certainly are some people who won't go if the restraunt/bar permits smoking). That means that permitting smoking in some establishments increases the number of waitresses and bartenders who are employed, and the total amount of money paid to waitresses and bartenders in this country. Perhaps many of them think that it isn't worth it to inhale the smoke. If this is the case, then they will choose to accept lower pay from non-smoking establishments rather than work in smoking establishments, which will reduce the profit margin of the smoking establishments, compared to non-smoking ones. If enough employees think this way, it will become unprofitable to permit smoking, thus creating a de facto smoking ban. On the other hand, the restraunt and bar workers could unionize and make these demands about working conditions. (Ignore government recognition of unions, because when the government recognizes them they become EVIL. Our good union uses strikes and negotiations with management, not government coercion, to get its way.) If they were able to maintain solidarity, they would win. But if some people preferred to work under the poor conditions, or if the restraunts found it was more profitable to just hire and train new waiters and bartenders, they would lose. This is the way capitalism works. We all get to use our money and our time and our assets to influence the marketplace according to our preferences. We don't use our votes to do so. THAT is socialism, and it is the end of freedom.

Posted by Kenny at January 10, 2006 12:36 PM
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