Thursday, February 03, 2005

Smoking in the Hotel

First off, not avoiding Iraqi elections, I'm holding comment until the result comes in. There are some interesting features of those elections worth exploring in a dry theoretical manner. I will do so at the appropriate juncture.

Ken has commented a couple of times recently on the Scottish Smoking ban - usually negatively.

I've been meaning to write around this theme - liberty and the Good - for a while, and have some pocket research for a subsequent post on the subject. I know you're on tenter-hooks.

Now, I like the idea of a smoking ban, in as much as I like the idea of smoke free pubs, I've only found one in London so far, and that one is far away and crowded. There, my cards are on the table.

I can empathise with Scottish politicians who introduced the ban - I remember watching the debates on Telly - faced with the opportunity to save thousands of lives, they have leapt at the opportunity to do good, to achieve The Good. It seems a rational case of protecting Peter sober from Peter drunk. It must be a good feeling to have that sort of Power, to be able to use it, and at a stroke impose the good life.

This is troubling to libertarians. Troubling to me, with my democratic conservatism thesis I'm brewing.

But, lets look at market models, and see if there was any other way this could have been achieved. See, whilst I would like some sort of free association, mutualist outcome for this, I can't see any operators other than conscious authority that could produce the Good of the smoke free pub.

Now, hostellers - big or small - are subject to Market Equilibrium as described in Hotelling's model - firms will locate themselves at the point at which they can attract the maximum custom. That means pubs will want to attract all humans around them. That is, they want their customers to include smokers and non-smokers. Now, Smokers provide revenue - sales of baccy products. So there is an extra incentive to include them. If a pub were to exclude smokers, then any neighbouring pub permitting them entry, would gain custom - not just of the smokers, but likely their non-smoking friends as well. Barring smoking is not merely failing to provide a service (a place to smoke) but actively creates a disincentive to attend a pub, for smokers.

In an ideal market, niche pubs would start to spring up, to cater for the non-smoking crowd. But since pubbing groups are usually mixed, and majorities will normally back down to the minority of smokers in order to keep the group together (the failure of consensus models) there is no way of identifying and selling to that market. Further, the transport costs of a widely spread non-smoking market make it less likely to be able to draw people in from far and wide in the way that, say, a Goth pub like the Devonshire Arms can.

Thus, to have smoking and non-smoking pubs would require co-operation, or at least co-ordination, to ensure a proper mix, to offer real choices denied by the imperfect market information. That would require authorities. Ideally, I'd prefer democratic authority, but even that would be anti-libertarian tyranny over the smoking minority.

Enough rambling. Just remember, liberty and The Good don't necessarilly coincide. I'll explore that disturbing thought later.


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