Politicians undermine property rights
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on May 1, 2006.
Call it a nonpartisan destruction of property rights. Not only did Governor Bill Owens sign a bill that undermines the property rights of select business owners, but Grand Junction's two representatives, Josh Penry and Bernie Buescher, voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Ron Teck voted against.
House Bill 06-1175 is called the "Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act." It might as well be called the "Government Controls Your Property, You Don't, Act."
The law, which takes effect July 1, violates private property rights, violates freedom of contract, and violates freedom of association. And it unjustly expands the government's control over the economy.
The proper and only legitimate function of government is to protect individual rights. As Ayn Rand notes, "The right to life is the source of all rights -- and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible."
The new law is based on a lie. It claims its purpose is to "protect nonsmokers from involuntary exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in most indoor areas open to the public, public meetings, food service establishments, and places of employment." But of course going into a bar, restaurant, or other private establishment is a strictly voluntary choice.
The real meaning of the law is that those with political power have forced private property owners to accommodate their wishes. What is now "involuntary" is for private property owners to decide smoking policies on their property. No longer can business owners control their own property in this respect. No longer can establishments voluntarily cater to smokers. No longer can business owners freely contract with willing clients to provide mutually-agreed services. No longer can business owners and workers voluntarily decide the terms of employment. No longer can people assemble freely on private property on terms that suit them.
As Thomas DiLorenzo writes in How Capitalism Saved America, Britain's "long train of abuses and usurpations" that provoked the Revolutionary War included restraints on the free exchange of tobacco and other goods. The Founders would be ashamed of Colorado's unprincipled governor and Grand Junction's representives. Great men bled and died to defend our rights. The majority of Colorado's politicians have repaid them by imposing the petty controls of the Nanny State.
And it's no excuse that some local governments also violated rights.
The bill's declaration asserts "that a balance should be struck between the health concerns of nonconsumers of tobacco products and the need to minimize unwarranted governmental intrusion into, and regulation of, private spheres of conduct and choice..."
Note the absurd language: the legislature wishes to "minimize," but not eliminate, "unwarranted governmental intrusion." But the proper purpose of the legislature is to root out all unwarranted governmental intrusion. (Apparently, the legislature thinks its job is to add reams of nonsense to the statutes every year.)
How do legislators hope to determine the correct "balance" of rights violations? The new law exempts private residences and automobiles, limousines under private hire, and up to "twenty-five percent" of hotel rooms. Because, in its infinite wisdom, the legislature has determined that the correct "balance" is to allow smoking in "twenty-five percent" of hotel rooms. Obviously, either 24 percent or 26 percent would have been the wrong "balance" of violating the fundamental human rights of hotel owners to control their property and contract freely with patrons.
Also exempt are retail tobacco shops, cigar bars, "an airport smoking concession," "the outdoor area of any business," businesses with fewer than three employees, ranches, and casinos.
In this context, what "balance" means precisely is that those with political power get to trample the rights of others by arbitrary whim. By this standard, none of your rights is safe. Who's to say that the right "balance" isn't to ban smoking in the home if anybody else is present? What about the "health concerns of nonconsumers" of guns or swimming pools? Indiscriminate sex can be highly dangerous to health; perhaps the answer is "governmental intrusion" into our sex lives. Without a clear standard of rights, endless pretexts will undermine them.
Employers and employees have the right to contract freely over working conditions. Workers have the right to accept or reject jobs in smoking facilities. Notably, private owners also have the right to voluntarily ban smoking within their establishments. Customers who want a smoke-free environment have the right to patronize such establishments and boycott places that allow smoking. As fewer people smoke, and as more workers demand smoke-free environments (or higher wages to compensate for smoke), many establishments would voluntarily cater to non-smoking patrons. But those establishments that wish to cater to smokers have every right to do so.
We don't enjoy cigarette smoke, and generally we seek to avoid it. But the real danger to our health, well-being, and lives is a political system that violates individual rights.