Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Statist Fallacy

While preparing for my next column about the Clean Air Manhattan campaign (CAM), a campaign circulating a petition to ban smoking in private establishments (which, disingenuously, they constantly refer to as "public"), I came across this argument, from the Q and A section of the CAM page:

Shouldn't restaurants be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to allow smoking inside?

Restaurants, bars and other places that serve food or drink are heavily regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). For instance temperatures at which food must be stored are regulated. Raw food can't be stored next to other food. Sprinkler systems are required in case of fire. The list goes on. This is all to protect these establishments' workers and patrons, just as a smoking ban requiring smoke-free air would do.

What a perverse form of reasoning! They use the fact that there are already existing restrictions on liberty to justify further restrictions! It's like if your car were to get a flat tire, would you then say, "Well, might as well give it another"?

For libertarian reasons, I think the FDA should be abolished (Cafe Hayek has written a lot on that), but one doesn't even have to agree with this admittedly extreme position to see why sanitation and fire regulations are different than the proposed smoking regulations.

Sanitation and fire regulations can be justified because a person doesn't have knowledge of a private establishments sanitation and fire safety conditions, and so can't be said to have tacitly agreed to accept whatever harm might come to them as a result of these conditions. However, a person knows immediately whether or not people are smoking when they enter, and so if they still decide to patronize that store, then they have entered into a tacit agreement to accept the risks of inhaling that smoke.

But, back to my first point, using the fact of existing regulations as the justification for more--that is what I call the "Statist Fallacy." This fallacy also takes the form of "Well, the government already does this for you, so why not this other thing?" But this is a road with no end, save that of serfdom. For if previous restrictions on freedom can justify more restrictions on freedom, then what is to stop this snowball from pulverizing all the freedoms we hold dear? Remember, as shown above, all regulations need to be justified separately, and rigorously, to preserve our free society, and the fact of previous regulation can NEVER justify further regulation.

The Statist Fallacy justifies an enthusiastic Slip 'n Slide down the slippery slope to fascism. Be on the lookout.


Anonymous mkatherine29 said...

you prepare for your columns? huh, never would've thought. Good natured insults aside, I think you make a good argument here. I look forward to proofing the column. Enjoyed the slip'n'slide link.

10:19 PM  

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