Friday, October 28, 2005

FOR CONSIDERATION RE. SMOKING IN PUBS

Here's some thoughts that fit this issue into a libertarian class analysis.

First of all, there is the "the state always benefits" analysis. This is a picture I hit upon whilst cosidering David Friedman and Frederick Bastiat's denial of a class system. Bastiat, it should be recalled, said that the state was that great fiction by which everybody tried to live at the expense of everybody else. Friedman essentially argued the same, pointing out that a state with the capacity to intervene in the economy and to redistribute income attracted rent seekers, each of which is a burden on everybody else, including each other.

However, what we get in reality is one group of people turning to the stae and saying, "please, make it so that X is the case," whilst another turns to the state and says, "no, make it so that not-X is the case." Either way, it is the state they must turn to, it is the state that is the major player, and so it is the state that benefits whatever outcome is adopted. Most conspicuous in this case are the armies of health advisors and activists milking it.

Secondly, the case is that smokers assault bar staff by forcing them to inhale smoke as they work. Of course, bar satff choose to work in the bars. However, we should recall the words of Benjamin Tucker here:

...if a man has labour to sell, he has a right to a free-market in which to sell it, - a market in which no one shall be prevented by restrictive laws from honestly obtaining the money to buy it. If the man with labour to sell has not this free market, then his liberty is violated and his property vicrtually taken from him. Now such a free market has constantly been denied ... to the labourers of the civilised world ... Capitalists ... have placed and kept on the statute-books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes ... designed to limit and effective in limiting the number of bidders for the labour of those who have labour to sell.


And not just labour to sell, but money to sell in exchange for goods and services.

How is this relevant to the smoking in pubs issue? Precisely because owners of pubs can be included amongst the capitalists who have kept such restrictive laws and taxes on the books. First and most obvious are the licensing laws, according to which it is illegal to simply open your own building up to the public and let them buy your alcohol off you. Without licensing laws, anybody could simply go into business as a pub, or even an "off license" (a redundant term in a free-market). Not only do licensing laws restrict who can go into business, but those who get into business are also restricted. Special licensing controls when pubs may open or stay open, or when they can sell different types of drinks. People have to pay, and often pay a lot, for instance, for the right to stay open later than eleven o'clock. Without this an enterprising landlord may have "smoker's hours," for instance, at which times he lets people smoke, and only employs workers willing to tolerate smokers (those who might, for example, be paid more to do so - if smokers are worth more - or are perhaps otherwise worth less). This is actually a much better plan than the idea that people can have "non-smoking areas" in their pubs, which is a fine plan so long as you have enough room to so segregate the pub. Smoker's hours allows a different type of segregation.

On top of this, there are duties and taxes. Taxes on alcohol must be borne by its producer or supplier, since they cannot be passed on to customers. Anybody who thinks that taxes can be passed on to customers is presuming that, post-tax there is a high price at which consumers were still just as willing to buy as the were pre-tax, and that the producer or supplier was presumably for some reason not charging. This is an odd thing to think of capitalistic business men! Since taxes must be born by producers, they are an additional cost that is a prohibition on going into business. Therefore duties and taxes on alcohol help keep down the numbers of people competing in the industry.

Then there are planning laws. One cannot simply open a pub up. You have to apply for planning permission. Since planning committees are notoriously biased, this means that whoever controls the committee can restrict anybody else opening a business to compete with them. I seriously doubt that, even if there were no licensing laws, and no taxes, and there were an available market, I would still be prevented from going into business over the road from my local pub!.

All these regulations pose a barrier to entry to the industry. When they exist, landlords face less pressure to respond to consumer demand because it is harder for consumers to take their business elsewhere. So landlords can ignore consumer demand for non-smoking areas or times, or a non-smoking policy. If anybody were able to go into business, though, then people would be able to compete on these grounds. Likewise for workers in pubs. Workers are obliged to accept passive smoking because it is harder for them to simply "get a job somewhere else."

All this means that much of the "problems" surrounding the issue of smoking in pubs, can be laid at the feet of the interventionist corporate state. It is illogical to propose more intervention to solve the problem of intervention, though. The more consistent, just, and eficacious stategy, then, is not to ban smoking in pubs, but to free markets.

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