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Monday, October 8, 2007

Smoking again

Posted By on 10.08.07 at 06:54 AM

"All across the country, proprietors, landlords and residents associations are privately, voluntarily implementing smoking bans," says the Cato Institute's Tom Firey (surely no pun intended). "Because those actions are voluntary and private, market forces will lead to the provision of establishments and housing for both nonsmokers and smokers. This is fitting in a free society that values choice and respects the individual. It also protects public health -- people who don't want to be around tobacco smoke, whether out of health concerns or dislike of the smell and nuisance, don't ave to be around tobacco smoke.

"This legislation [banning smoking in apartments, as proposed in some California jurisdictions] does not respect individual choice and it is not motivated by concern for public health. It is social conservatism pure and simple -- some politicians want to use their office to impose their personal morality on other people."

My first thought was that this was a nice takedown of a characteristic liberal fallacy (all good things should be required by law), and a good example of how markets can promote live-and-let-live. My second thought was that it was also a nice example of a characteristic libertarian fallacy (we're all individuals with no more basic interdependency than a bunch of billiard balls).

How exactly does the market protect the health of smokers' children? I don't think that question refutes Cato's case, because not everything that's bad for kids can be outlawed without producing even worse effects -- but it does suggest that libertarians have a shallow understanding of the way people live together.

IOW, my decisions to smoke, or to leave my motorcycle helmet at home, rarely affect only me. Sometimes it's best to think and legislate as if they do, but exactly when is the question for political philosophers.

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