The Bates Student - November 6, 1998


Portland's smoking ban goes too far


As I see it, democracy isn't such a wonderful system of governance after all. I find it safe to assume that virtually everyone in the country would bristle at the thought of their personal liberties falling subject to the whim of the electorate. However, this is exactly what happens far too often.

This past Tuesday voters in Portland voted to sustain a ban on smoking in all restaurants in the city. On the surface it seems to many people to be a well-founded ban, but consider for a moment what that implies. A group of voters have made a decision as to how a business person chooses to operate his/her establishment. I ask one question in regard to this: Is this really fair?

Proponents of the ban said that it was a matter of health, public good, etc. Perhaps, but it seems to me that since restaurant owners operate in a free-market atmosphere that some would come to ban smoking while others would not. Simply put, patronize the restaurants which reflect your smoking preferences. If allowing smoking is indeed bad for business, the policy of the restaurant will change and visa-versa.

By virtue of that vote, the ability of Portland's restaurant owners to make decisions crucial to their business has been diminished. What right does anyone have to dictate how anyone else can control their holdings? Those restaurants do not belong to the public, yet the public claims to have authority to control aspects of its operation. In my opinion, if you don't like the smoking policy of a particular restaurant you have two choices: A.) Buy the restaurant and change the policy or B.) go somewhere else.

We live in a society which claims to hold our personal liberties near and dear, however we trample upon the liberties of those in the private sector. Cities can change zoning ordinances in order to prevent a landowner from developing a certain industry or business, a single vote strips a restaurant owner from developing his/her own policy for their business, and companies which are too successful are challenged and/or curtailed by the government (i.e. AT&T and Microsoft).

The latter reference is now underway. As you read this article Microsoft is under fire from the Justice Department for no less than simply being too good at what they do. As far as the United States is concerned you can start a company, be aggressive, employ lots of workers, but don't you dare be so successful so as to corner the market. Free enterprise is in many ways the most glorious facet of our nation, I venture to guess that the same is not said of government policy and those that craft it.

I realize that Netscape and America Online (AOL) contend that Microsoft uses its market dominance to "muscle-out" competition, but quite frankly if either of those companies were able to bring a viable alternative product to the market they wouldn't be complaining. It isn't that Netscape and AOL cannot compete with Microsoft due to Microsoft's status, its that these companies consistently fail to provide a quality product that can contend with those of Microsoft. In this sense, the U.S. government by virtue of its legal actions against Microsoft, is punishing the creativity and ingenuity of one company and rewarding the shortcomings of others. Is this your picture of a true democracy?

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