02 February 2012

False Consciousness is the hollow trump card of every "reformer."

Liquidity Preference | Jacob Grier | Smoking: More than just a vice

Something Not Unlike Research” is a health care blog I recently came across written by two university professors. One of them, Bill Gardner, wrote this week in defense of employers choosing not to hire smokers. He concluding by noting that “Smoking is a vice that benefits no one.” I took him to task for this last line on Twitter:
“Smoking is a vice that benefits no one.” — @Bill_Gardner Oh please. I like it. It benefits me! Arrogant assumption.
To my surprise, he responded in a new post:
[...] Having conceded that smoking may benefit Jacob’s subjective well-being, can I still say that “smoking is a vice that benefits no one”? I certainly can, if it’s understood that benefit refers to the long-term well-being of smokers, and those who depend upon them, rather than immediate subjective well-being. In that sense of benefit, there is nothing to be said for smoking or binge drinking.
Semantics aside, activists’ unwillingness to consider the benefits of smoking leads to excessively restrictive policies. Let’s take smoking bans for example. Consider two businesses:

Business 1 is a tobacco shop with an attached lounge that offers beer and wine. Customers are allowed to smoke there. It’s a freestanding building with no immediate neighbors, so no one except customers and employees is affected by the smoking. Four people are employed serving drinks in the lounge. A smoking ban passes that forces the business to eliminate drink service. The day the ban takes effect those four employees lose their jobs.

Business 2 is a restaurant that serves Dungeness crab caught in the Pacific Northwest. Commercial fishing has one of the highest fatality rates of any occupation and crabbing in this region is often the highest of all. For comparison, the average annual fatality rate for all occupations is 4 per 100,000 workers. For fishing as a whole the rate is 115/100,000. For Dungeness crab fishermen in the Pacific Northwest the rate is 463/100,000. (Source here.) There are no proposals to forbid restaurants from serving Dungeness crab.

The comparison might seem silly, but why? Dungeness crab is delicious but it’s hardly a staple in the food supply. Fishermen are literally dying to put it on our plates. Though the level of risk associated with secondhand smoke exposure is in dispute, it would be astonishing if the danger of pouring beer in a smoky room was at all comparable to crabbing on a stormy ocean. So again, why the disparity in how we treat these workers? [...]

Yet exceptions to smoking bans are often unreasonably narrow, preventing consenting adults from making free exchanges with each other. This is because policy makers view smoking as inherently without value. The thought process goes something like this:

1) Smoking has no value.

2) Protecting workers has value.

3) Therefore it’s OK to ban smoking everywhere without worrying about smokers’ preferences.
Grier makes an excellent point. Of course Dungeness crab is only the beginning. There is literally no end to the things people can — and do! — claim have no value and are not beneficial in the long run. Sure, motorcycle owners claim their vehicles enhance their "subjective well being" but I know better, and I can tell that in the long run they are too risky to truly benefit them.

Similarly drinking, eating red meat, sky diving, gambling, having premarital sex, taking a pay-day loan, driving long distances, watching pornography, watching television, downhill skiing, majoring in art, working as a salaryman, getting a tattoo, getting high, ultramarathoning, having a debit card with late payment or overdraft fees, using previously owned children's toys or cribs, eating sugar, ...

When you claim you know what benefits people more than they know themselves there is nothing you can't justify.

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