Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Let Property Rights Prevail - Smoking

I'm not a smoker, but I am a supporter of property rights. If I don't want to smoke in my house, or let anyone else smoke in my house, I have that right. But what if I want to smoke in my house, or let someone else smoke in my house? I believe I would have just as much right. This applies not only to my house, but to any property I own. (Or so it should.)

Unfortunately, mini-tyrants all around us have fought to diminish those property rights and take away that decision from property owners. Utah has an indoor clean air act that defines privately-owned but publicly used building owners, such as shopping malls, as having no rights to make the decision whether or not to allow indoor smoking. I think this is absurd. In 2006, a law was passed, updating the clean air act to include privately-own bars. So much for liberty. Why do these tyrants get away with it? The answer...because society lets them. Society has used democracy to trample all over our property rights. There twisted justification is that these places would be unsafe because smoking would be allowed. But that's not true. Here to elaborate how giving back our property rights and putting the choice back in the hands of owners is a better alternative, both for our health and for our freedom, is Andrew Cohen writing for FEE's The Freeman in 1998. An excerpt:
Besides a concern about the proper scope of law, smoking regulations undermine two important foundations for voluntary relationships, one economic, the other social . Economically, regulations direct merchants’ attentions away from customers and toward the demands of bureaucrats. That undermines the discipline a free market imposes, where merchants must satisfy customers or go out of business. Merchants must tune less to the signals customers give and more to the demands imposed by regulators.

Perhaps more important (and more fundamentally), a regulatory regime undermines the basis for voluntary social relationships. In a civil society, one can request that others accommodate your needs. In relationships defined by mutual concern and trust, people would (and perhaps should) voluntarily stop doing things others see as a nuisance. Mature adults in voluntary relationships do not need to be chaperoned by the state in matters of basic civility. Regulatory supervision undermines the authentic concern people can and should show one another on the way to developing meaningful relationships of all sorts. But smoking or dinances give individuals no choice but to do what regulators want them to do. They are deprived of the chance of expressing genuine concern for others.

Where individuals greet one another as equals, the give-and-take of ordinary human encounters can, over time, foster relationships where they learn to care about one another’s needs. When regulations define their relationship in advance, they are as children on a vigilantly supervised playground. In such circumstances they have less reason to rise above the petty squabbles that maturity and concern for others should serve to resolve.

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