- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

City proprietors in the eating and drinking business inevitably build their establishments with self-preservation in mind.

A person looking to open a Thai restaurant is not apt to locate in the vicinity of another Thai restaurant, not unless the person has deep pockets and an urge to hold a restaurant war. The marketplace is fairly efficient in that regard. If there is a demand for this or that cuisine or this or that watering hole, rest assured that an enterprising soul eventually will come along in response to public need. There is gold on the streets of the nation’s capital, provided the product and service are worthy.

Sometimes city officials overlook the effectiveness of the free-enterprise system, whether they are trying to lure a big box to a demographically challenged neighborhood or trying to legislate the bad habits of their citizenry.

They want to play doctor with a system that works just fine on its own. To play doctor, you see, they have to pass new laws that supersede old ones and write new tax measures into an already convoluted tax code.

This is a wonderful arrangement if you are the corporate suits of Target or Shoppers Food Warehouse, and you are reluctant to locate in a neighborhood that just might not be able to support your business.

Here comes the city with its deal-sweetening tax breaks and favorable leases. Here comes the city with a red carpet that never would be rolled out to the small-business owner.

The D.C. Council is forever pulling and tugging on capitalism’s collar, forever trying to shape it in the fashion of the day. Now here is council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, looking to bring a smoke-free tomorrow to the city and offering the usual assortment of tax incentives to her captive audience.

Run a smoke-free place and you, sir, will receive a 25 percent credit on your annual sales taxes. If you elect not to do that, we plan to sock it to you by quadrupling your licensing fee and requiring you to install an expensive ventilation system.

This do-good proposal penalizes those who merely are responding to the marketplace.

Here is how simple it is: I do not like Indian food; therefore, I do not go to Indian restaurants. How complicated is that? What would you say to legislation that required Indian restaurants to add cheeseburgers to their menu, so someone like me could share dinner with those friends who love Indian food? Why, you would say that is crazy, plus cheeseburgers are high in fat, and you would be correct on both counts.

Or what would you say to legislation that required dance clubs to meet a decibel requirement? Again, you would say that is crazy, and again, you would be correct.

If you don’t like an establishment that requires you to shout in order to be heard, and you fear ending up like Ozzy Osbourne, then do not go to the place. It is your choice. And here is the best part of the marketplace: If your taste runs to soft music and overstuffed chairs and couches, there is a place for you. No smoking? Those places are available as well.

It is all very easy, very simple, and it all has come about without the help of politicians following the lead of other politicians.

This is not intended to champion smoking, drinking, foods high in fat and ear-damaging music. Most of us know the health score there. This is about having choices, which is so fundamentally American. That spirit is reflected in grocery aisles carrying an array of similar products.

Let the marketplace sort out the smoking wars, D.C. Council members.

You can be certain of the marketplace’s efficiency.

Besides, I do not know if I would be taking my political cues from Montgomery County, a smoke-free zone that turned the humble cucumber into a sexual object.

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