The other night, upon accepting the 2005 Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of inside-the-Beltway conservatism, the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa gave a speech extolling liberalism. Not, he hastened to explain, the contemporary American version, but liberalism in its older sense, an outlook predicated on "tolerance and respect for others," the basic elements of which are "political democracy, the market economy, and the defense of individual interests over those of the state."
This liberalism, which requires private property, free markets and the rule of law, has little in common with the statist mutation that goes by that name in the United States. One of classical liberalism's central insights, Vargas Llosa noted, is that "freedom is a single, unified concept. Political and economic liberties are as inseparable as the two sides of a medal." By contrast, self-styled liberals in the U.S. tend to view economic liberty with indifference, if not hostility, leaving its defense to conservatives.
Blayne and Julie McAferty's struggle to save their Seattle bed-and-breakfast suggests why this abdication is a mistake. In 2003, citing a dearth of local bed-and-breakfasts, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that for the first time permitted B&Bs in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences. But after the McAfertys opened the Greenlake Guest House B&B last summer, their neighbors decided it was one too many. "I've got people waving at me and I don't know who they are," one complained.
Under pressure from residents alarmed by these excessively friendly strangers, the city retroactively declared the McAfertys' B&B illegal, ordering it closed by the end of this month and threatening fines of $75 a day if they don't comply. The official justification for the order is the remodeling work the McAfertys did on their home before opening it as a B&B, which involved adding one dormer to the second floor and expanding another to make the upstairs rooms larger.
According to the city's interpretation of the law, it would have been fine if the McAfertys had simply remodeled their home. Likewise if they had remodeled it and sold it to someone else who then used it as a B&B. Where they ran afoul of the law was in remodeling their home and subsequently offering rooms for rent.