Thursday, May 05, 2005

Smoking Bans -- A case of "What is seen and what is unseen"

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:24 PM |  

WARNING: This post contains explicit economic theory and is recommended for a mature audience. Some cognitive dissonance may not be appropriate for smoking ban proponents. Intellectual discretion is advised.

Those that frequently read this blog know that I am a big fan of Henry Hazlitt’s "Economics in One Lesson" and the 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat on whose theory of “what is seen and what is not seen” much of Hazlitts’s book is based. The validity of Bastiat’s theory is no where more evident than in the aftermath of Twin Cities area smoking bans.

What Bastiat writes of economists can also be said of do-gooders that would influence public policy without regard for ALL the consequences of its implementation.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.
Case in point.

Today I received an email for a person who makes -- or rather made -- his living supplying tobacco-related products to bars and restaurants. The Twin Cites was his primary market, and today, business has completely disappeared. Like a good businessman, he sought new customers outside the metro area, but uncertainty about more local bans and a possible statewide smoking ban on bars and restaurants has killed any potential business there as well. He writes --

So I went to the Hennepin County Family Court Bldg. to file a Motion to modify/ temporarily cancel child support, and it occurred to me that all bar and restaurant owners managers need to remind their laid off employees who pay child support to do the same, if they don't have immediate prospects elsewhere.

I was told by family court workers an unusually high number of people have recently been doing the same due to the lost business in the hospitality industry, post-smoking ban. However, the family court division said they won't be compiling the numbers to provide to county commissioners or city council members.
Just a blip, one might argue, on the scale of the great good of banishing the menace of secondhand smoke from bars and restaurants, which is the “present good” that is visible today. What is not seen today, and either not foreseen or actively ignored by smoking ban proponents, is the myriad individuals like the e-mailer who through no fault of their own suddenly find themselves out of work and in many cases without prospects because of the smoking ban.

They have dependents that suffer collateral damage from their loss of employment as do the businesses they patronize. The affects ripple through the community unnoticed by non-smoking patrons that with a “that’s what welfare is for” attitude can now enjoy a smoke-free meal anywhere they want without the bother of those pesky property rights of business owners getting in the way.

And because theses souls are dispersed, unrelated by anything but the negative affect of the smoking ban on their livelihoods, they remain unseen by smoking ban proponents proclaiming the pleasantness of a smokeless bar.

Cut it any way you like, the smoking ban issue boils down to the evil of destroying the concepts of private property and freedom of choice for the convenience of those that would rent the power of government to subvert free choice in a free market.