Ah, a reminder why libertarians shouldn’t be too pained by Rudy Giuliani’s exit from the presidential race: a party at a bar here in New York City last night, full of political writer and activist types, was apparently warned not to dance. As Giuliani told the City during his (often beneficial) time as mayor, dancing is illegal here unless your establishment has a cabaret license, and enforcement of those cabaret laws resumed under Giuliani after decades of being ignored.
This is also a reminder that government — which is nothing more than a massive, bewildering mountain of edicts enforced by fines and jail time — need not be fueled by religion to interfere in petty, puritanical ways with people’s lives (Manhattan ends up being just as unfree by some measures as that small-minded town in Footloose, which I’ve actually never seen, by the way — nor Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, or any of the Rocky movies, but I still love the 80s). Virtually all laws are insane nuisances disrupting the efficient conduct of our lives, and anyone who wants still more laws — still more control over human behavior, still more power for government — is quite simply an asshole, regardless of what philosophers he’s read or what party he belongs to (and let us not forget John McCain campaigning to outlaw ultimate fighting, as we watch his ascension).
Of course, I’m glad the man upstairs doesn’t love dancing more — and by the man upstairs, I don’t mean God, I literally mean the man upstairs, in apartment 4A, who plays awful techno music so loudly that I hear the “thud thud thud” part resonating through my ceiling while the “aaaah aaaaah ya-yaaaaaa” chanty part echoes through the radiator pipe, almost like stereo (telling him to turn it down tends to yield only one day of relief). So I concede I would not want him running a full-blown disco up there, and I find myself increasingly tempted to read up on (inherently-ambiguous) noise pollution laws.
But dancing on the first floor of a bar where music will likely be played anyway should not create legal problems beyond those already addressed by noise pollution laws and could in any case be dealt with on a case-by-case basis rather than through the pretense that forcing people to pay to license such activities somehow magically eliminates any attendant social-coordination problems — a pretense that is little more than a state-run shakedown operation.
It is well known that in this town, for instance, there are (or at least very recently were) in effect two piles of applications for liquor licenses: the ones that get approved because a bribe has been paid to the licensing officials and the ones that get ignored because a bribe has not been paid. But what practical difference would it make if licensing were all done by the book? It’s still just buying your freedom from the guys who have the guns and the jails. Are we stupid enough to believe that an establishment that couldn’t be trusted to dispense liquor in a responsible fashion before it paid $X to the government somehow becomes more responsible after it pays? Likewise, does anyone think paying for one of the limited number of taxicab medallions available in the City magically transforms one into a better driver?
Government makes you pay for licenses because it can, that’s all there is to it. Left, right, centrist, vertical, purple, Muslim, what have you: assholes, as noted above — and never noted often enough.
And as I mentioned once before, Giuliani also wanted to start enforcing the anti-jaywalking laws here, which is like outlawing the dispensing of stimulating beverages in Seattle.
P.S. Though there’ll be no dancing at all at Lolita Bar this coming Wednesday (8pm on Feb. 6), you should nonetheless come to hear John Derbyshire and Seth Colter Walls share their reactions (and you can share yours) to the primaries, which will be largely settled by then.
If we can’t dance, maybe we can at least get Derb to do karaoke afterwards. You know it doesn’t take much to convince me. Luckily we don’t live in China, where unlicensed karaoke establishments get attacked with bulldozers — but you see the ominous parallels. (Communists: also assholes.)