Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Who Killed Disco?

by Paul Jacob

The age of the glittery mirror ball and loud, simple dance music is over.

According to Ian Schrager, as recorded in Vanity Fair's recent oral history of disco, it "wasn't AIDS that made the nightclub business difficult. Government regulations did it in."

Schrager and his partner set up their first nightclub, in Queens, for $27,000. The more famous Studio 54 -- or is that "infamous"? -- went up for $400,000.

"Now," says Schrager, a major real estate developer, "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."

And it's not just disco that's suffered. It's worth remembering one sad side effect of all the red tape cities and states put up to new enterprises. It leaves the private sector desperate to focus on the surest forms of wealth generation, less able to serve niche markets. Like discos.

Nowadays, to establish and run non-school, non-work activities for young people, volunteers organize community events, write grant applications and hold out their hats. This crowds out funding for needier, worthier charities, and litters our towns with poorly run government-funded efforts.

Personally, I don't like disco -- but could it be that things were better when entrepreneurs like Schrager set the stage?

Paul Jacob's "Common Sense" is published by the Citizens in Charge Foundation. Their website can be visited at www.citizensincharge.org.