Friday, April 4, 2008

Freedom or Not, Here We Come!

Before we get started, I need to make this very clear. I am not a smoker, I have never been a smoker, and I prefer to spend my time in an environment that does not have second hand smoke. This "rant" is about incremental loss of personal freedoms. The very concept of a central committee of power drunk local politicians making decisions that have unintended consequences makes my blood boil.

While we were living in Albuquerque (sometime in 2004-2005), the city council along with the mayor decided that they knew better than every business in the city and banned smoking in restaurants. Later in 2007, they extended the ban to bars and night clubs, but they continue to allow smoking in "Cigar Bars," whatever that is. That's right! You can no longer smoke in the bars and night clubs of Albuquerque. I always thought that you went to bars and night clubs to drink, smoke, and engage in other risky behaviors, but that is just a guess based on the movies that I have seen.

In any case, many people, including my wife Kristy, were pleased with the results. Even though I could now go to my favorite restaurants without having to worry about smelling like an ashtray, I was more than a little bit ticked. Before the ban, several of the restaurants in town had made the decision to become non-smoking without the government requiring it. Imagine that. Small business owners, in a market where the majority of all the new entries to the market fail, thought that they could gain a competitive advantage by providing a different dining experience. While I don't have the numbers to prove it, my guess is that these restaurants were gaining business relative to their peers. That is the way of the free market! It is efficient in providing a method of deciding winners and losers unless something interferes with it.

As this "wave" of restaurants decided to become non-smoking, the city "central committee" stepped in. Today, it was suggested to me that the council saw that the restaurants were moving in that direction and decided to take credit for it. Of course, the councilors claimed they were ONLY showing that they cared about the health and well-being of the workers in the restaurants. However, the unintended (or maybe intended, I'm not sure) consequence of what they did was to pick winners and losers. How? Their decision eliminated any competitive advantage that the non-smoking restaurants had gained by the stroke of the mayor's pen.

Forget the smoking ban for a second, and let's think about this another way. Who is in a better position to win in a highly regulated environment: a large national business with lawyers employed full-time on regulatory issues or a family business that is trying to expand from one small town to another? Now, what did the council actually do? They discriminated in favor of the large national chain restaurants that already have the advantage of name recognition when travelers are making a dinner decision.

What they should have done is to let the owner of Paisano's, a great Italian restaurant in Albuquerque, continue to do what he was doing: Going smoke-free and advertising it in the newspapers, local TV and yellow pages; providing superior food; and providing menu choices for those that don't often have them. (Annie, this restaurant is so good that they have fantastic gluten-free pasta dishes and gluten-free lasagna according to one of the people here at the conference.) Instead, they decided in favor of the Olive Garden. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

So, if you are ever in the Q (another brilliant marketing decision by the same genius mayor), see if the central planners made the right decision. Take a trip to see Joseph Camuglia at 1935 Eubank NE. You won't regret it!


Anonymous said...

we think it's getting bad in the states with big government micro managing our lives..... it's even worse in Germany. you can't do anything without a permit here. one side note....... you know we talked about rfid technology being put in the money so cash is not anonymous anymore?....... well yesterday we paid with something here and they took the bill and scanned it. I'm not sure if it's rfid but you can't make an anonymous purchase here now. It wasn't like this just a year ago. Things are changing and people need to wake up.

Russ said...

Who is this? Uncle Leo???


I hope you guys are doing well. I think you should at least put a "WG" on your comments.


Anonymous said...

I'm just glad the darn places are smoke-free!

Uncle Leo

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