years of opposition from business interests, Wisconsin’s legislature finally
enacts a smoking ban for the state’s many restaurants and bars. Syndicated
columnist Rick Horowitz sees the new law as just the latest chapter in a long
-- and important -- story. Here’s the text of his recent commentary on Milwaukee
Public TV’s “InterCHANGE” program.]
Look, I admit it: I don’t cut tobacco much slack. Both my parents were smokers -- lots of cigarettes, over lots of years.
My mother died of pancreatic cancer, which they say is a smoking-related disease.
And my father? My father died of lung cancer.
Just so you know where I’m coming from.
Anyway, I think the smoking ban is a good idea, and I’m glad to see that the Tavern League and the Restaurant Association finally decided to sign on to it.
Now, there are some people who say that the government has no right to tell a private business what they can or can’t or have to do.
“It’s a free country,” these people say, “And a free market. And people should be free to run their businesses any way they like.”
That’s a perfectly plausible position to take -- assuming you’ve been fast asleep for the past 70 or 80 years.
It used to be you could put little children to work in your factories. Child labor laws put a stop to that.
It used to be you could make people work seven days a week, 70 - 80 hours a week or more. We -- our government -- put a stop to that.
Seeing that workers earn a living wage for their labors -- it was the government that did that.
And tried to make sure that workplaces were safe, whether they were assembly lines stacked with hazardous machinery, or coal mines filled with lethal coal dust.
If we’d left it to the owners, to the businesses themselves, it wouldn’t have happened.
Did this or that law, this or that regulation, go too far? Maybe. But then let’s argue about the particular law or regulation, and fix it if it needs fixing.
But to say that the government has no role, that the “free market” is a free pass -- well, that argument was settled decades ago. Thank goodness.
Fighting regulations is what businesses do. There hasn’t been a business regulation in all of history that some business group didn’t swear was going to be the end of civilization as we know it.
Or at least the end of profits.
Two points about that. First, last I looked, civilization is still running -- and most of the time, so are profits. It’s not asking too much to try to protect the people who help create that profit.
And second: Maximizing profits isn’t a civilization’s only goal. Not a humane civilization, anyway. We’re better than that.
That’s not “class warfare.” That’s not “the nanny state.”
That’s just simple fairness.
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.