I have again been quoted in Heartlander Magazine, this time in “Aloha! Leave Your Plastic Grocery Bags at Home” by Kenneth Artz. I encourage you to read my comments there. Here are some of my further thoughts on this subject.
The recent banning of plastic bags in Los Angeles and Hawaii is a gross infringement on individual rights and free enterprise. Entirely harmless and consensual exchanges between stores and their customers are being prohibited, and in Los Angeles customers are being forced by the local government to pay for paper bags that stores would have preferred to give for free. This is a frightening infringement on consumer sovereignty, as it makes artificially scarce those goods which businesses would have preferred to make abundant and accessible for consumers’ benefit.
Freely available plastic and paper bags offer a superb convenience to consumers who may be making unplanned shopping trips – perhaps as a result of emergency needs. Furthermore, store-provided bags are helpful even to consumers who have brought their own bags – just in case those consumers purchase more items than would fit into the bags they brought. The governments in Hawaii and Los Angeles are forcing such consumers to pay an extra fee because of their unforeseen, and sometimes very personal, needs. The ban and fee are hardest on the least economically advantaged consumers, for whom every penny counts. The inconvenience of the ban and the cumulative cost of the paper-bag fees can make the difference between financial sustainability and severe strain on personal and family budgets.
As my comments in the article make clear, the ban is also repugnant from the standpoint of morality and limited government. The only morally praiseworthy acts of environmental responsibility are those initiated and voluntarily sustained by private individuals and businesses.
This tax on convenience is an unacceptable exercise of arbitrary power. If a government can arrogate to itself the power to prevent mutually beneficial arrangements such as the free availability of plastic and paper bags – then what can it not do? What kinds of petty micromanagement are off limits to cities and counties? What room is left for creativity and innovation among individuals and businesses if the smallest things in life are subject to crippling prohibitions and controls?