Our recent discussions on the smoking ban in Michigan reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s remarks during the health care debate in 1993. Her health care ideas–Hillarycare–called for a significant financial burden on businesses, especially small ones.
In response to the criticism that she would drive small businesses out of work, she said, “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”
In other words, the government is going to change the rules of the game, and if a business can’t afford to operate under those new rules, well, too bad.
HillaryCare went down to defeat, of course, but if you click on the op-ed I’ve linked to above, at least one person argues Clinton, now the U.S. secretary of state, developed a better appreciation for the burdens that government imposes on business.
Would that legislators in Michigan and other states learn that lesson as well. Some bars and restaurants will survive the smoking ban, though perhaps with decreased revenue–which will translate into fewer jobs and fewer pay raises. Others will go out of business. Call the smoking ban an unfunded mandate, for that it does it use the power of government to reduce the income of some businesses. (Rather than directly raises costs, it reduces income by discouraging some people from becoming customers of these businesses.)
All this is a far cry from the red herring argument that, hey, you wouldn’t want government to allow John Doe from peeing on the floor next to Jane Doe’s table. First of all, no restaurant that allowed such activity would stay in business very long. More importantly, everyone who opens are bar knows that there is a legal prohibition on such activity. A ban on smoking, which for decades if not centuries has gone hand-in-hand with the consumption of alcoholic beverages, is quite different because it is a game-changer.
I suppose you could argue that in its wisdom, the representatives of the people are free to say, “As a society we have decided that we don’t want this kind of business to exist anymore.” For that is indeed what legislators do when they enact smoking bans. But they trample on the property rights of bar owners at the peril of us all. No business owner deserves legal protection to always exist (that’s just one thing that’s wrong with bailouts). But at the same time, changing the rules of the game discourages the development of new businesses that offer us goods, services–and jobs.