Monday 12 May 2008

Is Boris illiberal?

Devil's Kitchen writes that Boris Johnson is illiberal because he has banned alcohol from the Tube. There's another post here and also here.

(Incidentally, I imagine that Mr Devil was pleased to note that the population of the world probably reached 6,666,666,666 during the period of this debate...)

The trouble is, as some of the commenters have pointed out, that things can be more complicated than they may seem at first.

Here's Blue Eyes:

It is essentially a condition of carriage which as a private operator TFL is entitled to change from time to time. Or don't you agree with contracts between consenting adults now DK?

And DK's response:

P.S. If the Tube is a private space, then a politician should not be able to interfere. That was the whole point about the banning of smoking in pubs too.

Either it is a public area, in which case the politicians should have no mandate.

Which is it?

And here's Rory Meakin:

As I said, however, I am distinctly uncomfortable with this decision being taken by a politician. Whether a train/bus/tram company should permit alcohol on its property is in no sense a legitimate matter for public policy. This is the main problem.

The solution would be for TFL (and libraries) to be privatised and for the owners of those businesses to take such decisions (subject to any licensing as may be required). I believe a private tube operater might well also ban alcohol as it's perhaps not viable to sell it like on long distance journeys.

All libertarians opposed the pub smoking ban. That issue was straightforward. Despite their rather ambiguous name, pubs are private property and conditions of entry should be set by the owner and no one else, including the government. The same principle obviously applies to privately owned trains, buses and aircraft.

The problem is, of course, that the Tube isn't privately owned and the question is this: What should the guiding operating principles be when it comes to state-owned assets?

We come here to the heart of radical libertarian theory.

The non-aggression principle limits the state to the provision of defence, police and court systems. Anarcho-capitalists (with whom I sympathise) argue that no state has ever remained limited and can't do so by its very nature.

But if the state is abolished, then all property - including all land - becomes privately owned and each landowner has the right to set whatever rules for entry to his property that he chooses, for any reason whatsoever and however "irrational" to others. Just like those pub owners mentioned earlier or you, dear reader, with your own house.

Under this regime every bit of land is, yes, governed by its owner, and each owner will set those rules that he sees fit. Riding on a Stornoway bus may well necessitate the wearing of a conservative, black, three-piece suit and the carrying of a Bible. San Francisco's BART system would probably be somewhat different...

So, the free market would produce a vast variety of communities. Some would allow drink (and food) on "public" transport and others not. The owner of each community would decide what rules to apply according to his own value system and those values wouldn't necessarily be financial.

So what should Boris do?

I can see the argument that says that Boris is merely acting just like a private manager might do. But Boris isn't the manager of a private company, and in such cases I get very nervous when illiberal policies are introduced even though such "illiberalism" would be perfectly acceptable in privately run organisations.

In short, instead of bannning alcohol on the Tube Boris should tell the police to get out of their offices, stop enforcing political correctness, and start catching criminals.

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