Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Squeezing the Balloon

So much of (some) people's faith in government regulation assumes that a government change in rules will work because only the variable imposed by the rule changes in the equation.

So rules on bike helmets assume that bike riders ride their bikes exactly the same way as without a helmet, so safety increases. The regulators don't assume that bicyclists might ride more aggressively with the knowledge that their brains are more protected.

And with better football helmets, advances in protection are undone if players lead with their helmets to use their heads as a battering ram, more secure that they won't risk their spine.

Or does better gas mileage required by the government just give people the freedom to drive more and so use the same amount of gas?

Have increasingly complex restrictions on money in politics reduced money in politics or just pushed it into new areas that only people with the money to afford campaign finance lawyers can utilize to get their message out?

And then there are plastic bag bans so trendy with the Green crowd:

Unfortunately, study after study has shown that most of the supposed “benefits” of these bans and taxes have a negligible effect on the environment at best, and can actually have unintended consequences that cause greater environmental harm. Take Ireland['s plastic-bag tax], for example. When the New York Times reported the 94 percent decrease [in plastic-bag use], it neglected to specify that it was referring only to plastic grocery-bag use. Sales of non-grocery plastic bags (garbage bags, etc.) rose an astonishing 400 percent, amounting to a net increase of 10 percent in total plastic-bag consumption. In an interview with National Review Online, Patrick Gleason, state-affairs manager of Americans for Tax Reform, explains why.

“I don’t know about you, but bags from the store I usually keep to reuse again, to line waste bins, clean up after a pet, etc., so when you don’t have a stockpile built up and aren’t saving these bags, you have to go buy new ones. This goes together with the nonsensical nature of this policy, which has no positive impact on the environment. What’s the point of discriminating against bags on one side of the checkout from bags on the other?” Similar results were found in San Francisco, where, as Gleason notes, “not only was there no change in [the amount of] total litter, but plastic bags comprised a greater share of the litter after the ban.”

The first study he cites is from a source I used not infrequently in my career in the state legislature (Connecticut's OLS did nice work). So I got a kick out of that.

But this issue is something that frustrates me to no end. I have that same experience. I have never purchased plastic garbage bags in the more than a decade I've lived in my post-divorce home. I re-use those planet-killing grocery bags almost exclusively for garbage bags.

The other tiny fraction is met by a partial roll of larger plastic bags that I found in my home when I moved it. I have used it so little that I really can't place where that roll is right now. Somewhere in my kitchen, I assume. But even my larger bag needs are largely met by Toys R Us and department store bags that I re-use and not that legacy roll.

But these studies cited assume that the purpose of plastic bag bans is to reduce the use of plastic bags. Don't be silly.

The purpose is to make the backers of such bans feel superior about themselves. They would never sully their designer trash receptacles with grocery store-logo bags! They buy trash bags anyway and so by using their cloth grocery bags they feel superior for doing without those grocery plastic bags that the peasantry uses.

(Or perhaps they just don't notice the cause and effect of having to buy garbage bags.)

Or the purpose is simply to raise money if the "ban" is imposed as a charge for using the verboten plastic bags in order to inflict pain for using them.

So in those perspectives, who cares if a plastic grocery bag ban doesn't improve the environment? That's pretty irrelevant to feeling superior to the ignorant peasants who whine about losing their plastic bags or having more money to spend on pet projects.