Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The State of the Nanny State

I must have missed this on my transition back to Britain, but reading about it today made me happy:

Pub giant Wetherspoons is to ban smoking in all its outlets by May 2006 amid fears that drinkers are staying away from public houses because they are too smoky, it was announced today.
The company, which owns 650 pubs, said that 60 of those will become completely smoke-free from May of this year.
The firm, which has pioneered non-smoking areas in its bars and lounges, said it wanted to ban smoking two years ahead of Government legislation.

This news isn't pleasing because I'm a non-smoker. It pleases me because the company is willing to let the market decide whether it should adopt a non-smoking policy before letting the state determine what is best. As the first-mover in the market, they are taking a substantial risk, but the results of the trial will be a pretty good indicator of peoples' preference for non-smoking pubs/bars.

It has bothered me to no end seeing government-imposed non-smoking bans applied in restaurants and bars all over the world. If people don't want to hang out in a smoky pub, surely the market would encourage some entrepreneurial barkeep to start a non-smoking establishment, whose success would only breed more of such establishments? The lack of initiative by other companies on this issue in the past has mystified me. Cheers to Wetherspoons for testing what the market will bear.

Speaking of overzealous state intervention...

Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."
Seeing tax dollars dwindling, neighboring Oregon has already started road testing the idea.
"Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that," says engineer David Kim.

Without doing any complicated modeling (of which I would be incapable anyway), I'd have to assume this would be a regressive tax, borne most heavily by those least able to afford it. Imagine the effect in a state like California, where most public transit is akin to a practical joke, or in any other state, where the exurbs are (sadly) the living destination of choice. Dumb dumb dumb.


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