Sunday, 4 January 2009


Leveling the playing field.

This phrase has become very common from our elected officials as of the last few years, second only to the famous ‘’for the children’’ classic justification for governments to encroach deeper and deeper in our everyday lives and businesses.

So what exactly does leveling the playing field mean when it comes to business? The most simple to understand short definition probably comes from : Environment in which all companies in a given market must follow the same rules and are given an equal ability to compete. At first look this sounds enticing since it would be giving everyone equal opportunities to thrive in today’s competing market. We would even tend to agree with it if its extent was limited to treating every entrepreneur fairly as far as bureaucratic rules and regulations that govern their businesses go without any free passes. But beyond government treating all businesses equal when it comes to already established taxation, permits and minimal employment regulations, it should be left totally up to each individual business when it comes to the way it markets its wares and services in an effort to be creative in order to prosper, providing it is done within the boundaries of legality.

For example, while it is ok for government to regulate noise that may have become a nuisance to the surrounding neighbors, it is not up to government to set a hefty entry fee for the purpose of limiting the bar to an older less noisy crowd, nor to decide what the age of the patrons should be providing they are of legal drinking age.

The most common example of the level playing field excuse used by government is when it was thrown around ad nauseam during the Canadian campaign for smoking bans. The ban proponents stubbornly refused to allow any exemptions (even for private clubs with no employees), using the ‘’level playing field’’ to justify their intransigence. But are all bars operating under equal opportunities? Sure they may all be subjected to smoking bans now, but what of those that don’t have the space to operate a patio, a dance floor, a more attractive location or the money to provide for such attractions?

Well… in Nova Scotia, our ever encroaching elected officials, have burdened bars with yet another stringent regulation for ‘’the sake of the children’’ and ‘’the level playing field’’, subtracting these businessmen and women of yet another liberty and consumers of yet another break. Indeed, discounting the price of drinks in order to attract customers is now illegal! Everyone in Nova Scotia (coming soon to a province near you) must abide by a minimum price established by the nanny government. Notice that in the article we link to below, we no longer mention ‘’the children’’. We now talk of ‘’students’’. It would of course be kind of silly to use the children as an excuse to implement a minimum price for alcoholic drinks, so if we can’t exploit the ‘’children’’ angle, let’s substitute it for the ‘’students’’ angle. Those ‘’students’’ apparently binge drink and cause trouble and while one of their peers admits that setting a minimum price for drinks will not necessarily make them drink less, it will at least force them to do it elsewhere than a bar, like a friend’s house for instance. How convenient this ‘’out of site out of mind’’ policy! Won’t these ‘’students’’ eventually have to gain their home (exactly as they would after the bar closing hours) most probably even more drunk than if they were at a bar and cause just as much if not more trouble? Won’t these ‘’students’’ be disturbing the peace of residential neighborhoods? Unless of course we institute a law to barricade them in their ‘’friend’s house’’ if they have passed the 0,05 alcohol level! Let’s not give them any ideas, albeit we are sure it has already crossed the minds of the more radical among them.

The article informs us that 70 per cent of those businesses who have responded so far to a government survey are in favor of a minimum price while 20 per cent wanted an even higher price. No indication of course as to the number and type of businesses that responded. Is it 10 or 12 mom and pop establishments that are fed up of being undercut by well established chains, or is it on the contrary 2 or 3 well established venues that have bigger overheads and can’t afford to discount the drinks? Whichever it is, and whatever their number, it is too bad that they are opening yet another door for government to encroach further in our lives and livelihoods. Has the hospitality industry not learnt anything from past experiences with government interference? What will it take for people to understand that the more you ask of government, the more you restrain free will and the free market and this is never good news neither for economy nor freedom.

Last call for dollar drinks

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