Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Proper Role of Government – Libertarian Style

Today marks a sad day in, as I like to call it now, San Franangelo. The Smoking Ban has gone into effect city wide, and marks the codification of a loss of property rights here. The ban basically tells private business owners that they can no longer allow a certain legal activity in their own private businesses. This not only affects private businesses that depend on public patronage, like bars and restaurants, but also to manufacturing and other service related businesses. If a business has more than one employee, smoking is banned at that business at all times. So, even after all the employees go home for the night, the owner is forbidden by law to light one up on his/her own private property.

Let’s see how a libertarian government would have handled the issue.

A small group of San Angelo citizens get together and decide to petition the local government to instill a ban on smoking in private businesses. They enlist the aid of other like-minded groups from across the state and nationally for financial, legal, and logistical support. They begin a publicity campaign, and have the support of the local media.

They finally follow established procedures, and the proposed ordinance is placed on the ballot. 10,000 of San Angelo’s 80,000 citizens vote in favor of the ordinance and it is approved by the voters. By procedure, it then goes to the city council for final approval and implementation.

The libertarian city council considers the ordinance in which a small number of citizens are asking to usurp the private property rights of private businesses owners to allow or disallow a legal behavior. As the petitioners have no fungible rights to the private businesses, enacting the overreaching ordinance would infringe on the private business owners rights by using the force of government. Further, the undue influence of monetary donations and other logistical support by non-citizens in the ordinance is also considered. The city council realizes it is bound to protect the rights of their constituents from this outside influence as well.

The council does not approve the ordinance, stating the proper role of government is to protect the individual property rights of citizens against those that would interfere with the rights of others by fraud or force.

Many business owners in town, noting the large voter turn-out and wishes of that portion of the population, choose to disallow smoking in their business while others continue to allow smoking. In this, the rights of business owners to allow legal activity in their businesses are not infringed. Both smoking and non-smoking establishments are allowed to continue business as desired by their owner, and flourish. Further, the city council gains the respect of all informed citizens, as the citizens are no longer worried about what individual or property rights will be taken away next.


The proper role of government in a libertarian view is to protect the individual’s rights from others who would infringe on those rights by fraud or force. That includes government force.

That’s not what happened in this case. The San Franangelo city council decided that majority (mob) rule was more important (to their reelection efforts) than individual rights and the rule of law. They allowed a small group, supported by “carpetbaggers” from outside of San Angelo, to usurp the rights of San Franangelo citizens. Not the right to smoke, as there is no such thing. It is the right of a private business owner to control his/her private property.

Our council failed in their role as protectors of individual rights.