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A no go neighbourhood for liquor stores

  • February 22nd, 2012

As a firm specialising where business and government, and the constitution intersect we often have media requests for comment.

Often we're too busy, but this one caught me yesterday – We want to do an article looking at businesses' rights, versus people's opposition.

[Can you] give me a few lines about … whether it's fair the public come down so harsh on business who are following council rules, and just trying to make a buck.

I was reminded of the businessman I'd heard on RNZ on Monday explaining his decision to drop his dastardly application for a liquor store near a primary school.  It seemed not to occur to the pious interviewr to ask how a liquor store would suborn primary children banned by law from its portals. So I replied to the request as follows. 

 Businesses do not (and should not) have rights that are greater or lesser than the rights of the people who want their services and work in them or own them. People who frame the issues as a contest between a “neighbourhood” and a business  know nothing of the history of our rights, and what made us free and most other people in the world subject to the whims of the strongest or most assertive or most numerous in a ‘neighbourhood. Priests, princes and other intolerant rulers have always clung to power and found cover for imprisoning or impoverishing  or suppressing their opponents by claiming to act on the will of the majority.

 Typically they have liked to characterise themselves as protecting their people from scheming or greedy or immoral or unprincipled organisations. 120 years ago in New Zealand it was the Salvation Army under attack by local authorities, whipped up by the outrage of established (Anglican, Catholic) churchmen and publicans. So we had by-laws banning brass bands and singing in public, to stop the Sallies from gathering. 

 So what marks free societies is the protection of unpopular minorities from the will of the majority.

 I suspect those fighting having a porn and sex store nearby are doing what they can because they can’t fight what pours in from the internet and on public broadcasting.  The majority voters have supported governments that say those activities are legal.

 Similarly with drinking. In countries that are effective against youth drunkenness it is illegal for under-age people to drink, and public drunkenness is punished. That was also New Zealand law until 1980. Now of course we wail and demand tougher law, always against the suppliers. We have had no one publicly arguing for restoration of the kind of law that worked here, and still works in most overseas countries, where the kids who drink against the law are punished directly, and drunks are locked up.

So I scoff at the righteous claims of neighbourhoods against liquor retailing. None of them ever seem to push for direct responsibility. They’d rather rail against the agent.  It seems deep hypocrisy for people who drink to say effectively that only supermarkets can take the profits from selling liquor. The only certain effect of no-go neighbourhoods is to push up the value of the local existing stores that have the rationed privilege of selling liquor.

 To sum up, the rights of a business are actually the rights of its customers. It will not exist without those who want to use it.  So the question is not business rights vs peoples’ opposition. It is when and how we will restrict each other’s freedoms, and how far we go down that slippery slope in small and hypocritical ways before we’ve lost the clarity of the principle.



As usual, another good article Stephen,
its hard for people like me who take no responsibility, 
but we want  the equality and the choice and the freedom.

  • Paranormal
  • March 8th, 2012
  • 1:22 pm

Brilliant.  Thank you Stephen.

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