April 14, 2003


Bouncer fatally stabbed in brawl over New York City smoking ban (AP, 4/13/2003, via Drudge)
A bouncer at a Manhattan nightclub died Sunday after he was stabbed in a brawl that police said began when he tried to enforce the city's new ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

Dana Blake, 32, died about 11 hours after the late-night fight in an East Village nightclub....

Blake's older brother, Tony Blake, said Sunday he blamed the death on the smoking ban. "I'm very bitter," he said. "It's a senseless murder because of this stupid cigarette law. That's the reason this guy was killed."

Tocqueville wrote of the "spirit of liberty"; I suppose its opposite would be the "spirit of authority," the spirit of those who believe that some central authority should dictate how things will be and everyone else should submit.
Posted by Paul Jaminet at April 14, 2003 8:50 AM

Two points:

(1) This argument was lost at a moment which even sensible conservatives for the most part pay blind obeisance to now: passage of the Civil Rights Act. Having long ago ceded to the government the power to tell us who can patronize our establishments it's futile to argue that this goes too far.

(2) The government should encourage smoking, though I've no problem with requiring that it not be done in truly public places. Smokers, contrary to the claims of health advocates, are an excellent deal for their fellow taxpayers. Never mind the tobacco taxes they pay, it's the Social Security dollars that they leave uncollected when they die early that makes them a bonanza. The health care costs they consume in dying are minimal by comparison. If we're politically incapable of reforming Social Security, then getting a significant portion of society to die faster makes good economic sense.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2003 9:07 AM

oj - I agree with you that the Civil Rights Act and subsequent regulatory/judicial interpretations are a barrier to reclaiming our liberty. Somehow, we passed from one tyrannical regime -- Jim Crow -- to another -- the assertion that judges and regulators can control who we associate with in order to remedy Jim Crow, without ever giving freedom a try.

But I do not agree that the argument was "lost" and that continued argument is "futile." In fact, I think freedom of association is becoming far more important than before, as social connections become denser than in the past, and thus the civil rights regime is going to come under increasing challenge.

Posted by: pj at April 14, 2003 9:27 AM


Of course it's important, but who's going to fight that battle? Democrats consider it their greatest achievement and Republicans are afraid of being called racists. We're still decades away from the point where we could reform such laws, presumably at a point where blacks have fallen to such a small portion of the population that they're politically powerless as a racial voting block.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2003 9:57 AM

Politicians may be unable to fight the political battle, but right-wing whackos can fight the intellectual one.

You know Shaw's epigram: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."

Posted by: pj at April 14, 2003 10:22 AM

You seem to say both that bars should be able to choose to ban smoking individually and that the universal smoking ban caused the bouncer's death. So, the universal smoking ban caused his death, but, had the bar newly chosen to ban smoking itself, and the bouncer had tried to enforce it and the guy killed him (still the same situation -- new rule, drunk guy doesn't remember or doesn't care and lights up anyway, bouncer says no way, leave the place if you want to smoke, drunk guy kills him), that would not have been because of the rule? I'm against the universal ban, but bans (universal or local) don't cause patrons to kill bouncers. You're missing some logic (and some accountability) here.

Posted by: Adrianne at April 14, 2003 12:08 PM

Adrianne - First of all, the killer is guilty of murder, and nothing absolves him of guilt.

The universal smoking ban is blameworthy in the bounder's death because it removed the killer's most attractive alternatives. Had there been no smoking ban, the killer would likely have gone to a nightclub that didn't bar smoking. If he landed in a no-smoking nightclub by mistake, he might well have found the option of leaving and going to a smoking nightclub preferable to killing the bouncer.

This is basic economic reasoning. We can't know the internal preferences of the killer between murder and walking away, but we know that if you make walking away more attractive, he's more likely to do it.

I doubt that many people will die because of the smoking ban. But I do believe that authoritarian intrusions like this turn the culture from negotiation-based to power-based, and this encourages violence. And a thousand laws like the smoking ban have a cumulative effect that is very destructive.

Posted by: pj at April 14, 2003 12:30 PM

pj- Beautifully stated. The abuse of a business owner's property rights and the ability of consumers to choose due to some politician/bureaucrat personal preference is an abuse of the relationship between citizen and representative. It will have implications down the road.

Of course, contemporary Americans no longer seem to care.

The abuse that rights of property and association have taken in this country over the last 50 years is frightening. What's next...?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 14, 2003 3:20 PM

Yeah, why does N.Y. chlorinate its water?

You could add a few drops of bleach after

it comes out of the tap, as you choose.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 14, 2003 5:38 PM

Heh, heh. Well, there's not much divergence of opinion among New York water consumers about the benefits of chlorinated water. Those who have a special distaste for chlorine use Britta filters.

Posted by: pj at April 14, 2003 6:43 PM

It happens I spent yesterday working on a

column about chemically treating water.

Public water was first chlorinated in Pola

during a typhoid epidemic in 1896. They

just dumped in bleach from a cloth mill.

Public water was first continuously chlorinated

in Middelkerke, Belgium, in 1902, just over

100 years ago.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 14, 2003 9:39 PM

What the heck does chlorinated water have to do with anything? Last time I looked it was a publicly managed system for the benefit of all. Help me out here.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 15, 2003 9:45 AM

Tom - Harry was attempting a reductio ad absurdum: if New York shouldn't impose a universal ban on smoking for public health reasons, then maybe it shouldn't impose a universal ban on germs in drinking water by virtue of mandatory at-source chlorination. Instead, just as it should let private citizens decide smoking, it should let private citizens decide how to treat their water. But that would be absurd.

I replied that the situations aren't comparable. The chlorination of drinking water helps everyone and harms no one, and I'm not aware of any significant opposition to it. The smoking ban, on the other hand, is onerous to smokers.

Posted by: pj at April 15, 2003 12:10 PM

Move here and you'll find plenty of opposition

to chlorination.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 16, 2003 12:19 AM

There's another response to Harry's argument:

New York does not bar anyone from de-chlorinating their water, or from buying bottled water. Thus, people are free to choose one or the other. New Yorkers are given no choice, however, in regard to smoking.

Harry - as an economist, I don't take their opposition seriously until they offer to pay Hawaii to cease chlorination. If they won't give up anything to get chlorine-free water, then their opinions are as worthless as those of the Arab street.

Posted by: pj at April 16, 2003 9:54 AM