2023 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Business/Economy, Exclusives, Gold Dome, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Bad bills intrude on freedom of contract

Among our fundamental human rights are those to produce and trade free from others’ arbitrary restrictions. Our right to freedom of association entails our right to freedom of contract. Generally, when people are free to associate and contract voluntarily, they choose to enter mutually beneficial arrangements.

But such freedom—unless it entails abortion, gender-affirming care, or non-tobacco drug purchases—is precisely what the so-called progressives in the legislature cannot and will not tolerate.

Recently, I reviewed three bills seeking to further violate people’s right to contract freely for housing, when what we need is a freer housing market. Here I’ll review a few other bills in the same vein.

Flex-schedule restrictions

House Bill 23-1118 is complex; its basic idea is to force businesses to pay employees to not work, if the work schedule is not sufficiently “predictable,” as determined by the legislature.

The bill is called the “Fair Workweek Employment Standards.” And who is the arbiter of what is “fair”? Not individuals who are free to to accept and leave jobs at will, according to this bill. Rather, politicians dictate what is “fair”—and they back up their arbitrary pronouncements with threats of government violence.

As the summary of the bill states, “The division of labor standards and statistics . . . is authorized to investigate complaints and, upon determining that a violation occurred, to impose fines, penalties, or damages and award attorney fees and costs. The division is also authorized to bring a civil action to enforce the requirements of the bill.”

The obvious effect of the bill—I mean, the effect is obvious to anyone with any capacity to foresee how laws skew incentives, which precludes most self-described progressives—will be to raise costs for businesses and consumers and discourage the creation of the very jobs the bill allegedly protects. But progressives would rather a person not have a job at all than have a job that “unfairly” does not pay them for not working.

Tipping controls

House Bill 23-1146 “prohibits an employer engaged in a business from taking adverse action against an employee who accepts a cash gratuity offered by a patron of the business,” according to the summary.

This is just not an appropriate place for government to interfere. A business might have good reason to restrict tipping. By telling its customers it does not accept tips, a business communicates three main things: Customers can expect the full cost of the service to be built into the advertised price. Customers can expect employees not to pressure them, subtly or otherwise, to fork over more money. And the business aims to provide uniform quality to all comers, rather than incentivize employees to give extra attention to the perceived high rollers.

Generally, a business that declines tips, in an industry where tipping often is encouraged, will have to pay its employees a higher hourly wage to compensate. These trade-offs should be between the people who run the business (and assume its financial risks) and those who accept employment with the business.

Repair mandates

People have a right to produce and trade freely, by mutual consent. There is no “right” to force suppliers to give you parts, information, and assistance that were not part of the original sales agreement. So when Representative Brianna Titone claims to endorse a “right to repair,” what she means is that she endorses the use of government force to violate people’s right to freedom of contract.

Last year, Titone led the legislative charge to impose repair mandates on producers of wheel chairs. I wrote about why that law was unjust.

This year, House Bill 23-1011 “requires a manufacturer to provide parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, or documentation, such as diagnostic, maintenance, or repair manuals, diagrams, or similar information (resources), to independent repair providers and owners of the manufacturer’s agricultural equipment,” according to the summary.

What’s wrong with that? Producers have a right to select authorized repair shops. They have a legitimate interest in maintaining their reputation and avoiding possible legal entanglements. Obviously these mandates raise costs for producers and therefore for consumers.

If farmers want to buy equipment with “right to repair” terms built into the sales contract, let them negotiate freely with suppliers to make that happen. But leave government out of it.

Try freedom instead

Progressives typically will reply to such criticisms with the claim that contract negotiations often are imbalanced in some way. I agree they can be, which is why I favor things like voluntary unions, media attention, and public-relations campaigns by concerned groups. But the progressive presumption that politicians and bureaucrats can intelligently fix such market imbalances is crazy. Usually, blinded to unintended consequences, they make things worse.

At a minimum, freedom of contract should be the strong presumption. Unless politicians have very good reason to intervene, and, further, very good reason to think their intervention will improve things without imposing substantial unintended harms, they should mind their own business rather than try to run everyone else’s business. But, without any substantial liberty-oriented checks in the legislature, I fear in many cases we will suffer the consequences of progressive hubris.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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