Tossed out with the Bags: Freedom and Life

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The California legislature has just done advocates of limited government a favor by passing a law that is a poster-child of everything wrong with unlimited government power: It will ban plastic shopping bags statewide beginning in 2015. Stephen DeMaura notes at Forbes that the law enriches some at the expense of others, actually achieves the opposite of its stated purpose of solid waste reduction (not, let me add, that this is a proper role of government), and actually presents a public health threat in the form of an arbitrary incentive to use a certain type of shopping bag:

[R]eusable bags ... pose a growing public health risk, as demonstrated by a particularly disturbing vignette from Oregon, where a girls soccer team was stricken by the Norovirus traced to a reusable tote.

In the seven years since San Francisco became the first American municipality to ban plastic bags in 2007, researchers have tracked a 5-percent increase in death from food-borne illness. That increase isn't simply coincidental, but causal: According to a 2011 white paper by the International Association for Food Protection, a majority of reusable bags contain coliform bacteria.

These are genuine facts that California's lawmakers and governor willfully ignored. But they won't be ignored by voters--either their pockets will be hurting from a new regressive tax or their bellies from the forced transition to bacteria-riddled totes--when considering a referendum in 2016. [links dropped, bold added]
Also noteworthy are the jobs that this move will cost Californians. People involved in the manufacture of the economical plastic bags will lose their jobs, as well as those in the enterprise (ironically created in the first place by government regulations) of recycling them. At every step of this process, note the displacement of rational thought by government force. Starting with a complete disregard for what government is actually supposed to be doing -- opening the floodgates for it to meddle with everything -- we have the government proceeding to:
  • Declare itself puppetmaster of the people whose rights it is supposed to be protecting. (This is the whole premise behind prescriptive law.)
  • Declare itself instead as guardian of "the environment". (This is a concession to any lingering power the people might have: They must be shamed into supporting such measures. All other communication with those whom it regards as subjects will be in the form of orders.)
  • Dictate to everyone that "the environment" must be protected, and how to do so.
  • Unilaterally declare something unfit for the purpose it has decided.
  • Force anyone who uses paper bags to pay bribe money to shut up any potential opponents.
  • Present anyone who doesn't want to pay the bribe to choose between the following: (a) waste irreplaceable time by washing reusable bags, or (b) risk sickening themselves and others by not washing such bags.
Consider this law a microcosm of how our unbounded government operates today. It might also be worth contemplating how such an entity -- that can't and won't even get the matter of which bag to use for shopping right -- is supposed to micromanage much more important things, like your personal health and the entire economy.

As I said, this law is a favor, but there is a catch: It is not enough to call this law "impractical", because that merely leaves unanswered the question, "For what?" It obviously succeeds at quite a few things, and it is these things which hold the key to questioning its moral basis. Until we do that, the gang in power will continue to hide behind the fuzzy notion of "the common good", and we will merely squabble over implementation of bad laws.

-- CAV

No comments: