Politics & Policy

Last Call On Ladies’ Night

$5 beers and government overreach.

In New Jersey, it’s last call on Ladies’ Night. This week, director of the state division of civil rights, J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, announced that the Garden State will henceforth ban the longstanding practice of offering drink and admission discounts to women on designated ladies’ nights. The 13-page ruling lectures that a bar’s desire to attract customers doesn’t override the “important social policy objective of eradicating discrimination.” In this case, “discrimination” refers to a Cherry Hill restaurant’s Wednesday-night practice of charging men a five dollar cover while letting women in free and offering them cheaper drinks.

#ad#This ruling will apply to restaurants and bars across the state–and ultimately may have an impact that extends far beyond the loss of ladies’ nights. After all, if discounts for women violate someone’s civil rights, then what about promotions that favor other groups? Seniors citizens regularly receive discounts at restaurants and movie theaters, surely a form of discrimination against New Jersey’s more youthful citizens. College students are offered a break on museum admission and train fares–a slap in the face of those who can’t afford or aren’t smart enough to attend college. Holiday Inns and other family-friendly hotels sometimes offer “kids eat free” promotions–perhaps couples without children should sue?

New Jersey’s Governor, Jim McGreevey, reportedly called the ruling “bureaucratic nonsense,” suggesting that ladies’ night may be in line for a stay of execution by the executive branch. Nevertheless, the ruling–however absurd–is emblematic of the growing arrogance of a government caste that seeks to micromanage every aspect of Americans’ lives.

Consider that the federal register–Washington’s rule book for how we’re supposed to live–contains more than 75,000 pages. Most of it governs the minutiae of how people can interact economically, from how many sick days people get to limits on what products can be sold and how they must be made. The cost of compiling with these rules is an estimated $380 billion annually.

Ultimately, it’s not just the women who will now have to pay the full five dollars for their beers who are harmed by this ruling–and from the culture of hyper-regulation it represents. Small-business owners and their employees are actually the biggest losers. While large companies have the resources to interpret and comply with the increasingly complicated thicket of commandments and dictates, smaller businesses have a tougher time. The per-employee cost of complying with regulations is more than 50-percent higher for small businesses than for large ones.

Of course, the ladies’ night ruling is also laughable for its unchivalrous nature. What’s next, ticketing men for opening doors or giving up their seats on the bus? Yet this is the logical outcome of a campaign to eradicate any acknowledgement of difference between the sexes.

Sadly, the New Jersey story wouldn’t have even been reported on had the ban applied to “men’s nights.” Feminists have worked for decades to convince Americans that men-only policies are discriminatory while women-only associations and institutions should be celebrated. Prestigious men’s colleges are forced to open their doors to women, for example, while women’s colleges are allowed to thrive.

Ultimately, this new sexist double standard seems untenable. While Governor McGreevey characterizes the current episode as “an overreaction that reflects a complete lack of common sense and good judgment,” it’s actually a logical extension of the existing government overreach. Therefore, while this ruling fails to indicate if this new anti-discrimination regime must extend to discount for senior citizens and children, businesses using such promotions should be warned: government will probably be coming after you next.

New Jersey ladies may now pay more for drinks, but Vespa-Papaleo has done all women a favor with this ruling. By staking out a policy that most Americans see as inappropriate state meddling, he invites us to examine the system that made it happen. Women may discover it’s not the ruling that’s outlandish, but the system itself.

Carrie Lukas is the director of policy for the Independent Women’s Forum.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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