Small Business

Please Don't Talk About Government Tonight…


Cause that governing talk just brings me down, when you're destroying night life all over town. It's easy to forget some of the subtle ways overweening government sucks, but here's an example from an unlikely place: Ian Schrager of Studio 54 talking in Vanity Fair's "oral history of disco" article from its February issue about the death of disco:

It wasn't aids that made the nightclub business difficult. Government regulations did it in. Steve and I did our first nightclub [the Enchanted Garden, in Douglaston, Queens] for $27,000 and Studio 54 we did for $400,000. Now, with all the regulations, fire codes, sprinkler requirements, neighborhood issues, community planning boards … before you even put on the first coat of paint, you're into it for over a million dollars. What it's done is disenfranchise young people.

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  1. I went to a New Year’s Eve wedding this year. The music at the reception was all disco, even though the bride and groom were born after Disco’s death. It dawned on me that Disco is now wedding music for white people. The only time you ever hear disco in public is certain middle and upper class white weddings. You never hear it anywhere else. It is in the same class of music now as the electric slide, chicken dance and the hurley gurley.

    1. No disco music at my wedding. Lots of old R&B and some blues, but no disco. Me and the pianist had an understanding.

      1. None at mine either. Lots of the same. Sadly, I had some Boston Southie Hoodlum for a DJ who had no idea what the hell to play and had to be threatened with death during the wedding to keep from playing crap music. I told my wife not to hire a DJ because one would fuck it up. And sure enough I was right.

        1. When I met with our performer, we had fun coming up with the song list. He likes old blues and R&B, too.

        2. And sure enough I was right.

          For your sake, John, I hope you didn’t say that within earshot of your wife.

          1. Damn right I was. I am still angry about it and I have never let her forget it.

      2. Getting married was your first mistake.

        I’m here all week.

        1. Disagree. Well, in my case. Not sure about John’s.

        2. So marriage was a mistake, but proposing marriage wasn’t? Interesting take.

    2. That is an interesting observation. I think you are on to something.

    3. Disco evolved into House music.

      1. Dr. House music?

  2. I agree. I was at this tasty Great White concert and … OK, bad example.

  3. What it’s done is disenfranchise young people.

    Good. If young people aren’t disenfranchised, they grow up to be worthless little shits.

  4. “It wasn’t aids that made the nightclub business difficult. Government regulations did it in … all the regulations, fire codes, sprinkler requirements”

    Because nightclubs never catch on fire, do they?

    Oh, and the coke busts. They didn’t help either. But, when you think about it, that was the government too.

    1. It wasn’t the coke busts, it was the tax evasion busts that did Steve and Ian in.

      1. Do note that he is not in any way talking about the things that brought him down; he is talking about the barriers in place to anyone STARTING a nightclub business

        1. Yeah, like making sure the place isn’t going to burn down.

          Fire codes are one area where I hope even most libertarians agree is a place that is appropiate for the government to be involved.

          1. What makes you think that “Fire Codes” have anything to do with stopping fires?

            Fire codes do two things:

            1. Force you to pay lots of money to a contractor who is a friend of the inspector, who kicks the money back to the inspector.

            2. Provides a byzantine labyrinth of regulations under which no one could possibly comply, which means the government can put you out of business whenever you stop paying your bribes and protection money.

            If it was really about safety, there would be a simple universal international set of standards published by ISO that everyone could follow cheaply and easily.

            1. Let’s look at it different way.

              In California, there are very strict governmental building codes on the design of buildings for earthquake safety.

              In Haiti, there are not.

              If you were in Los Angeles when a earthquake of the same magnitutude as the recent one in Haiti happened, do you think it is more or less likely you would die than if you were in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck there?

              1. False dichotomy. Regulations are not the only factor (nor are they the largest). Economic ability to provide the raw materials, expertise, labor, etc. to build such structures does not exist in Haiti. How much are you willing to wager that Haiti actually DOES HAVE building codes? I don’t know but the MO of tyrannical dictatorships is ‘many laws makes many lawbreakers’. Another factor is the last time Haiti was hit by a significant quake was 200 years ago. California gets them much more often and therefore is willing to expend the effort to mitigate them…i.e. when was the last time North Dakota was worried about hurricane preparedness?

                Perspective. It is everything.

                1. I guess they don’t but my point is still reinforced by the article. Codes do not make strong buildings…money does. Also, the articles I checked state there is no “National” building code, there may very well be Port-of-Prince city ordnances etc.

                  Still shakin’

              2. You have to live before you can die. If the government were to mandate housing standards the people could not afford, they would do nobody any good. Not even the evil contractors, who would just love to make a bundle installing the extra protection, would be happy.

                When we get to a world government we will have this problem solved. We’ll miss the Haitians though.

              3. Because clearly Haiti’s biggest deficiency, nay, the root of all its centuries-old fuckedupness is the lack of building codes.

        2. The regulatory burdens are tremendous to starting many types of businesses (especially those involving alcohol) and are often unjustified. They definitely act as a barrier to entry to smaller players. As they are often intended to do.

          Do regulations make things safe or does a demand for things to be safe do so? If nightclubs were catching on fire regularly, would people go to them? I’m not saying that regulatory requirements do nothing to improve safety, but, without them, there would still be some process–whether through private certification or some other less formal mechanism–to ensure reasonable safety to consumers.

          Even accepting regulations for consumer protection, how many of them are really necessary? And how many regulations (as well as fees) serve the government’s interest instead of the public’s?

          1. One of the major elephants in the room to me is the whole “it’s not the drinker’s fault that he consumes 20 alcoholic beverages and smashes up his car and kills 3 people… it’s the bartender’s fault for not monitoring him!”

            If you serve alcohol at an establishment you’re taking a whole lot of risk (and cost because of insurance, etc.) into your hands because we no longer blame the drunk, we blame the person who gave them the avenue to get drunk. That alone would keep me out of investing in the nightclub/bar/social club business.

          2. When you’re talking about tall buildings, much of the regulations not only protect life, but protect the property. So it’s a benefit to most.

            When a fire is detected it will set off alarms on that floor and the floor above it. Sprinklers often will extinguish the fire, or help contain it. The building is wired with a fire command station that can communicate to all floors.

            Fire safety is pretty impressive. A fire would have to start huge to really screw up a building with these system. Like a shit load of jet fuel.

            1. Or thermite paint?

            2. Mot of the fire safety stuff is required by insurance companies anyway. The alcohol and community planning shit is the invention of the government an no one else.

              1. I’m not defending excessive zoning laws for reasons other than safety. But arguing against government fire and safety laws (in general) in the design and operation of a business is retarded, IMHO.

            3. Isn’t the foam drop at raves a fire retardant?

          3. Well, in the AZ burner community our motto is “safety third”.

            One reason for the rise of “raves” and other one-night party events may be because it’s a means to evade regulation.

            That certainly played a crucial role in the early years of Burning Man.

          4. Nightclubs DO catch fire from time to time, especially underground and illegal ones.

            Here’s a list of a few:


            1. Therapy may help with your overwhelming fear of fires.

    2. neighborhood issues, community planning boards

      While I’m not going to quibble over the costs of sprinkler requirements vs. community planning boards and neighborhood issues, he’s making a very valid point that probably, with every reasonable regulation for safety such as fire codes and sprinkler systems, there are forty more that just create barriers to entry. Regulations which create ‘process’ which only serve to stroke the ego of some narrow group of government employees and/or community activists, but drive up the startup costs.

      And we wonder why we live in a corporatist society. The only people who can get anything done in this country are multi-millionares.

      “I wish I’d done this before I’d run for president. It would have given me insight into the anxiety any independent businessman?must have….Now I’ve had to meet a payroll every week. I’ve got to pay the bank every month. I’ve got to pay the state of Connecticut taxes?.It gives you a whole new perspective on what other people worry about.” –George McGovern.

  5. What it’s done is disenfranchise young people.

    Stop abusing the English language.

    There are words that people refuse to apply to situations if they don’t agree with them–voluntary, consent, theft–and then there are words that people use that just doesn’t mean what they think it does.

    1. If there were more nightclubs that played disco, I could vote with my feet and not go to them. But now I can’t.

      I want my vote goddamit!

    2. Well, “disenfranchise” can mean to deprive someone of a right (not just a right to vote). Do people have a right to start a business? Is making that difficult or impossible depriving them of a right? I think it’s a debatable point.

      1. It’s a magnitude problem. Using “strip away ones right to participate in democracy” to talk about “it’s expensive to open a club in a really-expensive city” is just silly and hyperbolic. It’s bringing an atom bomb to a knife fight.

        1. I’m going to ask your town to impose a service charge for each comment you make on this blog.

          1. Don’t give them any ideas. They are desperate for cash.

            1. Even I’m not that evil. But don’t let Epi see this thread.

    3. I don’t think it’s unreasonable.

      The concept of “enfranchisement” has expanded beyond just the right to vote, to situation where a particular class of people is denied the ability to participate is a key social function.

      I.e. If minorities are denied access to loans, or systematically discriminated against in the workforce, they are “disenfranchised”.

      He’s just applying the term in the same way. Young people don’t have a lot of capital to start off with. If you raise capital requirements through regulation, you’re systematically excluding a class of people from the ability to enter a particular market.

      1. Can’t I just be grouchy? 🙂

        1. Do we really have a choice?

          1. No. Although I think my “voice” on the blog drips with several more gallons of malice than I ever really intend.

            Unless you’re a complete troll fucktard, I’m usually just being a snarky clown.

            Except Episiarch. Fuck that guy.

            1. That was. . .unwise. I think an anonymous call from Seattle is about to be placed to your county commission.

        2. You’re just suspicious of the word ‘disenfranchised’ because it has been thrown around by the you-know-who’s for every ‘discrepancy’ in outcomes that could be reasonably pointed out. So I hear where you’re coming from.

          It’s just getting to the point where the American People writ large are disenfranchised by our own government.

          1. You’re disenfranchised! You’re disenfranchised! The whole country is disenfranchised! They’re disenfranchised! That government, that sick, crazy, depraved government, raped and beat all of us, and it’d like to do it again! It *told* me so! It’s just a show! It’s a show! It’s “Let’s Make A Deal”! “Let’s Make A Deal”! Hey Frank, you wanna “Make A Deal”? I got an insane government who likes to beat the shit out of its citizens!

  6. Where will our next generation of hipsterpreneurs get their start, what with all the dienfranchisement in the world?

    1. Especially with the Obamaart market crashing like it is.

  7. Because nightclubs never catch on fire, do they?

    Most people don’t need instruction by some officious dipshit with a badge to know it’s a bad idea to have indoor fireworks displays.

    1. At least they had the foresight to protect the brick walls with all that foam and fabric.

    2. Something I wrote about the Great White fire when it happened, for some reason only available scrolling down in this weird UPI feed:…..n+doherty+“great+white”+fire+nightclub&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    3. Most indoor fires are not a result of fireworks.

      It’s not the fire codes doing bring down clubs and bars in NYC. It people complaining to the city about the noise. The city will come out with a DB meter, if I remember correctly if your over 80 something decibels at a certain distance, you get a ticket. Too many tickets you get shut down.

      If your not familiar with NYC, understand that many businesses are on the first floor of an apartment building. It can be noisy for those on the front side of the building, and the back side if the bar has a outdoor garden area. People call 311 to complain. Before the 311 hotline, you pretty much had to call the cops. They didn’t care. The standard attitude was if you don’t like the noise, move to the suburb. But now 311 notifies the DEP and they will take action.

      Of course one of the biggest contributors to the noise is people hanging outside because it’s illegal to smoke inside. When the smoking ban started, I told a friend of mine that noise would be the next issue. The more people you have standing outside talking, the louder it gets.

      1. And fining or shutting a club down for being a nuisance should be acceptable to most libertarians, assuming there’s no other way to stop the nuisance.

        1. NYC is different becuase business and residence can be in the same building, and the fact that it’s millions of people on top of millions of people. Noise is always there. Nothing like a screaming fire truck, or Con Ed running a jackhammer doing emergency repairs at 3 AM.

          The nuisance of noise has always been part of NYC. If noise bothers you, it’s not the place to live. The city factored that in until nanny Bloomie took office.

          Also, the smoking ban has made the situation worse since everyone has to go outside to smoke, which bothers the neighbors. The government themselves are partly responsible for it being a nuisance. They helped create the problem and their solution is to close down businesses. Today only noise that created by a non-city entity is considered a nuisance. That’s not very libertarian.

          1. “They helped create the problem and their solution is to close down businesses.”

            Isn’t closing down businesses Nanny Bloomberg’s solution for everything?

            1. Pretty much

          2. You usually can’t move in some place and complain about an existing nuisance. Not and get any legal relief, anyway.

            1. NYC is not a usual town.

              If you move into a building and they have a loud bar downstairs, you just keep making 311 calls and the buisness will be fined to the point of closing. Happens all the time. Three very successful bars on my block were closed down in the last 7 months.

              Now days, the more successful your bar, the more likely you will get shut down, because it isn’t possible to have a large customer base and not have neighbors complain.

              And besides, the one complaining isn’t always right, but they are the ones heard the most.

        2. Meh. Some of us adhere to the Olde Schoole notion of “coming to the nuisance”.

          IOW, if you move into an apartment building that already has a nightclub on the first floor, don’t complain about the noise.

      2. All it’s really going to do is drive the clubs underground.

        The pros and cons of that situation have me on the fence.

        1. Like in Eyes Wide Shut?

          1. Not those kind of clubs… but the rave or underground rock club has a certain charm I cannot deny.

            1. Oh, come now.

  8. Oh, and Mr. Doherty? Thanks a bunch for putting that song in my head. I love the nightlife, I got to boogie…

  9. Studio 54 we did for $400,000. Now, with all the regulations, fire codes, sprinkler requirements, neighborhood issues, community planning boards ? before you even put on the first coat of paint, you’re into it for over a million dollars.

    Except that $400k in 1977 dollars inflation adjusts to well about 1.5 megabucks in 2010.

    1. Yeah but Studio 54 wasn’t their first club. It was their second club. And it was in a giant former TV studio that no one else had the balls to make into a club. It was a huge project. Everyone thought they were nuts to create a club that big. You couldn’t create a club the size of Studio 54 for anything under $10 million or more now.

      1. The funny thing is that there first club is now the clubhouse of a golf course, and a place where people do weddings/parties. Hard to believe.

        1. And Studio 54 is some kind of repertory theater now.

          1. As it always has been.

  10. Props on the Fountains of Wayne reference in the title.

  11. OK this is making pretty good sense to me dude. Seriously.


  12. Did I miss the convention where “aids” stopped being an acronym?

    1. Nasa decided it asap, along with Naacp. It’s sop really.

      1. To glom on to SFs grumpiness: An acronym needs to be pronounced (it used to need to be a real word like POTS for Plain Old Telephone Service). Therefore, AIDS = Acronym, SOP != Acronym. Just Sayin’

        p.s. the above ‘definition’ is actually disputed but I listen to Grammar Girl (cause chicks in glasses are hot).

        Pedants Unite!

        1. I’ve long been dubious of the quality of copying-and-pasting by some Reason contributors.

          1. What art thou implying?

  13. We were not being — in our minds — criminally negligent. All the performers in question had done what they were doing many times before. After you’ve done dangerous things for awhile with no dire consequences (think about driving, for example) you tend to stop thinking of them as so horribly dangerous that you are somewhat of a fool for even doing them. And pyro in small clubs has a pretty good safety track record, after all.

    Good piece, Brian.

    1. Funny how Reasons selectively applies logic. Brian is absolutely right in the above quote to point out that just because something hasn’t caused harm in the past doesn’t necessarily mean it is not dangerous. Yet, the same magazine will about once a quarter or so trot out the lack of terrorist attacks as absolute proof that terror is a very small threat going forward.

      1. What I’m often talking about in my Reason articles, probably more than just “often,” is the justification for government actions, and whether demonstrably small risks justify certain actions. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said anything is “absolute proof” of any future risks; I know at least once when writing about reasonably assumed terror risks, I pointed out that some devastating terror assault might happen THE VERY SECOND I’M TYPING THESE WORDS; that’s still true, and it still isn’t a killer argument against the notion that certain liberty or privacy or convenience (i.e., time and life) destroying actions on govts part aren’t justified.

        Here’s an old article in which I made the same point:…..the-terror

        1. Brian,

          I didn’t mean you in particular. But Reason has trotted out the “your odds of getting killed in a terror attack are 1 in however many so who cares” argument. And so have its commentors.

          Now, terrorism may not be a risk at all. They may be right. But, considering the rare and potentially catastrophic effects of terror attacks, the raw math of this many people dying over this many years in the past is of little or no value in determining that risk.

          1. “””the raw math of this many people dying over this many years in the past is of little or no value in determining that risk.”””

            How else would you calculate risk? Risk is calculated by past behavoirs in many fields. That’s like saying, hey just because he’s committed x amount of crime in the last 10 years isn’t evidence that he will commit any crimes in the future. I would agree that it’s not evidence, but it does say something about the possiblities of him committing another crime.

            How does your car insurance determine risk? The past behavior of certian age groups, the past statistics of number of moving violations by color of car, the past behavior of married drivers, ect.

            There been some discussion on this board about using risk to determine the rate of your health insurance.

            1. “How else would you calculate risk?”

              By current conditions and by what you can know about whether people are planning attacks. Look, how do you calculate the risks of using fireworks in a small club? If you did it by past deaths, the guys behind the Great White fire, were dead on. No one had ever been hurt before? Terrorism is the same way. Just because nothing has happened in the past doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. What happens in the future depends on future actions not past ones. But only 12 people at Fort Hood have died from terror attacks since 9-11, what is the risk? Whatever the risk is, it has nothing to do with Fort Hood and everything to do with how many and what kinds of plots are happening now.

              1. “”Look, how do you calculate the risks of using fireworks in a small club? If you did it by past deaths, the guys behind the Great White fire, were dead on””

                Ok, so how do you do it in that situation?

                “””Whatever the risk is, it has nothing to do with Fort Hood and everything to do with how many and what kinds of plots are happening now.””

                You are trying to see the reality of a situation, not calulate risk. Risk is not about what will really happen, just the odds of something really happening.

                I don’t think we really disagree. Calculating risk has little to do with reality. Just the perception of what reality could be. Which, I think, is your point. I do agree with that point.

                But you have to have some knowledge in calculating risk. If you don’t know how many or what kinds of plot are really out there now, it doesn’t mean there is less of a risk.

                1. Well, there’s two factors you need to consider. Not just the *probability* that something will happen, but also the *cost* of it happening.

                  The probability of starting a fire in a club may be relatively low, but the potential damage in terms of number of deaths is high.

                  These individuals assumed that because the probabiltiy of an accident was low that the cost of doing it was low. It’s an error people make all the time.

                  I think John’s right. The chances of a terrorist attack happening on any given day are small. But the cost of (say) someone detonating a nuclear bomb in Manhatten, are potentially enormous.

              2. Before the first shuttle launched, they calculated the risk at 1 catastrophic failure per 75 flights (pretty much dead on [ pun intended ] ). They did this despite there having been zero shuttle fatalities (or flights) to that point.

                Past behaviour IS good evidence, but isnt the whole case.

                I dont think Im disagreeing with you, Im just adding a layer of complexity on top. And yes, sometimes commenters here are overly simplistic, but I think the burden of proving the risk lies with those wanting to implement regulations, not with those opposing the regulation.

                Prove the risk level of shoe bombs before you make me take off my shoes at the airport. And one guy failing isnt proof.

              3. John has just endorsed the Precautionary Principle, folks.

                When he shows up in threads to help us fight environmentalists, we’re going to have to tell him he’s not welcome.

  14. Disco music is what killed disco.

    1. Disco never died and never will. What do you think Cher and Lady Gaga have been making all these years?

  15. Certain NY’ers are all smug about what they perceive to be the city’s wonderful nightlife. These are of course the same people whose actions led to the tranny hookers on 14th Street being replaced by an Apple Store, the same people who cheered Giuliani’s crackdown on dancing and Bloomberg’s crackdown on smoking, and the same people who bitch and moan about “noise” at every opportunity. I’m glad I was still in my 30s when NYC nightlife was actually good. Now I don’t much care anymore.

    1. Because you can never have good nightlife without tranny hookers.

      1. Damn right.

    2. I feel very strange defending Giulianiberg by saying that the tranny hookers were long gone before the Apple store went up on 14th, and there are still tranny hookers up around 23rd. (So I hear, anyway.)

  16. Builders didn’t have to worry about all that lousy governmental regulation in Haiti.

    1. Are you really that fucking stupid or just another chain-yanking troll?

      In case you’re the former, no amount of government regulation could have produced the wealth necessary to allow Haiti to build earthquake resistant buildings. Only one thing could have done that, but it wouldn’t fit your childishly simplistic view of the world.

  17. Oh, lord.

  18. Indeed. The crapulent state of the Haitian society and economy can be attributed entirely to shortage of petty government functionaries in that benighted land.

  19. Regulation killed disco?

    Damn this is the biggest challenge to my libertarian ideals I have ever faced.

  20. Is Haiti really going to become the new Somalia on this board? Really?

  21. If the regulatory burden to build shelter in Haiti was as high as it is in NYC, no buildings would have fallen during the recent earthquake.

    Of course, this is because there would be no buildings at all in Haiti, and all of her people would live outside. So the earthquake deaths prevented would probably have been more than offset by the exposure deaths caused.

    What is the carrying capacity of Haiti in the absence of any buildings and structures whatsoever? Not very high, I bet.

  22. One thing that people never mention about the Great White fire is that one reason it was so bad is because the club had installed flammable soundproofing in an attempt to comply with local noise regulations.

    So did the fire code kill those people or the noise code?

    1. Hey Fluffy: in regard to your comments about me on the gay marriage thread, there is a fact you seem to be missing.


      If you’re going to toss ad hominems at people who disagree with you, make sure you know what the fuck you’re talking about, FUCKTARD.

    2. Fluffy,”No one, no living human being, cares about denying marriage privileges to homosexuals for any non-religious reason.” Religious reasoning is the precise motivation for me to believe in gay rights. Most Catholics I know feel the same way and my children accept people for the way God made them.

  23. Let me know when someone writes a Disco History of Oral.

  24. The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, And The Culture Of The Night. I wouldn’t buy a used copy. 😉

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