Thursday, October 27, 2005

True Enemies of Freedom

Libertarians believe that the State is not their friend. But it does protect us against the tyranny of the majority, and that's worth a lot. An example is the Blair government's refusal to ban smoking in all public places as the anti-smoking lobby demands.

It's a messy solution:

The Government backed away from a total ban on smoking in public places last night after days of fierce wrangling between ministers ended in an uneasy compromise exempting private clubs and pubs not serving food.

But it's a darn sight better that a total ban, because:

A...survey of landlords by the association also found that 20 per cent of pubs would stop serving food in order to be exempt from a smoking ban.

Disclosures - I don't smoke and don't like inhaling smoke in planes, airports, cars and restaurants. But I expect pubs to be smoky.

The anti-smoking lobby argues that smokers don't have the right to create a smoky environment for non-smoking waitpeople in pubs. But that's disingenuous, since it's easy to require that smoking establishments only hire smokers.

The lobby's alternative plea is that the state should decide what's in the interests of smokers, because smoking causes them health problems and premature death, and the resulting costs are picked up by the Brit National Health Service. This argument doesn't stand up.

Smokers do die early - I think by about 10 years. Brits get a state pension of about £6,500 a year, so ignoring inflation a smoker saves the state £65,000 in pension payments. Plus smokers pay a lot of tax. All the search engines are broken at the moment, so I have to guess the numbers. Assume each smoker consumes one pack a day, and pays £3 per pack in tax, then over a smoking lifetime of 50 years, that's £55,000. So in total the Brit state gets £120,000 from the average smoker.

Having seen the NHS in action on relatives, I doubt that the rather basic healthcare that it provides the elderly adds up to anything like £120,000 per person. So smokers are better for state finances than non-smokers!

Finally, we live in a free society, and if we choose dangerous lifestyles that effect only ourselves, that's nobody else's business.

Libertarians should take comfort that the state stops them being bullied by zealots.