Thursday, October 27, 2005

Put This In Your Pipe And Smoke It

by Tom Bozzo

While Wal-Mart has taken flak over its efforts to reduce its benefit costs by discouraging the unhealthy from working for the mega-retailer, it's far from the only employer engaging in health-related discrimination. People going ape over the Madison smoking ban might take note of a Wall Street Journal item today, noting that in states where it's permitted by law, including its home state, the Union Pacific Railroad does not hire smokers (an older related item is here). Union Pacific's headquarters are located in the People's Republic of Nebraska. Similarly, Alaska Airlines reportedly has declined to hire smokers since the 1980s. All in the name of business, libertarian friends!

Meanwhile, I noticed that a downside of my new parking spot at work, which is much closer to the building entrance than the old one, is that my car smells like smoke at the end of the day, a "gift" from a young woman who works at an insurance office whose entrance is adjacent to my space and, from what I can tell, must smoke a lot. Grrr. Don't expect me to sign any petitions against a future comprehensive smoking ban.

Libertarians would take the position that businesses should have the choice of who they hire - and they would be against almost any law that dictated who they could and couldn't hire. The fact that UP and other businesses want to hire 'healthier' people in these days of high health care costs seems like a prudent business decision. I think liberals will soon be the ones who are up in arms over businesses discriminating against a new group of people, at least they should be if they really have any core principles. The Madison smoking ban is a restriction on business, whereas allowing businesses to hire who they want to hire is a freedom.

I enjoyed the pokes at Nebraska though! BTW, Lincoln had its smoking ban in effect prior to Madison even passing one. Who's more progressive?
My head is spinning with the ironies. I'm dizzy. I have to sit down....

This liberal is intrigued by the possibility of promoting business collusion on blacklisting smokers.

But as for Brian's sweeping statements about what libertarians think, what is their position on employer surveillance of employees outside the work place to make sure that they don't engage in other unhealthy lifestyle choices -- excessive drinking, recreational drug use, eating too much red meat and staying up late?
You're right, Oscar, I shouldn't speak for all Libertarians. I would think that Libertarians would tend to think that businesses have the right to hire who they want. The smoking ban is not about "the right to smoke," it's about the right of businesses to run their business how they see fit. There doesn't seem to be any problems fitting that idea into the same viewpoint with the idea that businesses should have the freedom to hire who they want, but I'd love for you to point it out how these are inconsistent.

I personally would take the position that a business owner has the right to do what they want within the law. If they want to legally watch employees outside the workplace, I don't see anything necessarily wrong with that, though personally I would not want to work for a business like that. I would think that businesses like those would have a hard time surviving and the free market would weed them out. But, that's their decision. It's certainly not my place to tell them what to do as long as they are following the law.

BTW, I get your name right, Oscar (at least your frickin' pseudonym). ;-)

Could you tell me where all the irony is? I don't see any at all.............................
The irony -- at least the one I was getting at -- is that libertarians tend to assume that letting businesses run their affairs 'how they see fit' will preserve individual rights by extension.

In the case of the smoking ban, it just looks like the interests of the ban-opposing businesses and would-be exercisers of the pseudo-right to smoke are aligned (though by no means are all business and individual rights aligned even here).

In fact, with both the smoking ban and the businesses that would engage in health-based employment discrimination, there are a variety of individual rights and business interests in conflict. There's no clean way to resolve the conflict to everyone's full satisfaction, but the resolution is essentially political. That smokers, as a declining minority, tend to be on the losing end of the process is not much of a surprise.

Your "libertarians tend to assume that letting businesses run their affairs 'how they see fit' will preserve individual rights by extension" quote is precisely right - in the whole though. I don't see how it conflicts anywhere. Even if a company doesn't hire you because you smoke, you haven't lost any rights at all. You have no right to work at any particular private business, nor do you have a right to force businesses to hold your particular viewpoints. Just as you have no right to enter someone's property w/o permission, you have no right to enter a business without permission. You can still do whatever you want on your own property, so you still have all your rights. This is my understanding of Libertarian philosophy, which I share for the most part. Businesses that decide not to hire certain portions of the population are in effect missing out on hiring the best possible employee because the available pool of employees is smaller. Not only that, if they are watching employees off of the job, they are going to push away their own employees too. A business can't survive if it is seriously trampling on its own employee's rights.

If a business wants to ban smoking, I'm fine with that. People can still smoke on their own property or at businesses that allow smoking. If gov't wants to take away the right of businesses to make that decision for themselves, I'm not okay with that.
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