“Ban the Bag” – Is Government the Answer?

Right at a year ago, I wrote a post on a “bag ban” proposal passed by the city of Austin, TX. That proposal has now gone into effect, and has created a hubbub once again among clear-thinking, sensible conservatives across the state. In memory of free markets and liberty, I re-post my original article:

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Thanks to our local Daily Sentinel’s Facebook page, I was recently made aware of a ban passed by the Austin City Council regarding the use of plastic bags at retail and grocery store checkouts.  I did a little reading on the details of this “ban,” and am frankly appalled that such a proposal ever came to a vote.  In Texas, no less!

In the city known for keeping it weird, however, Austinites managed to propose and pass yet another regulation that infringes upon the rights of private businesses and the citizens who own and manage them.  Of course, the proponents of this ban are ecstatic over their success.  From an article written back in August of last year:

“Council members say plastic bags are an environmental scourge – polluting waterways, clogging drainage systems and taking up landfill space, where they don’t biodegrade.

Austinites use 263 million plastic bags a year, and they cost the city and taxpayers about $850,000 a year to clean up as litter and put in landfills, according to city estimates.

A voluntary effort by large Austin retailers, including Walmart and Target, to cut plastic bag use was not effective enough, city officials have said.

On Thursday , the nonprofit Texas Campaign for the Environment called on the city to ban both plastic and paper bags, saying that would achieve the larger goal of helping consumers get in the habit of using reusable bags instead of single-use bags.”

Yes – the answer to this incredible waste is more government regulation.  After all, if our city councils aren’t forcing us to be more environment-friendly in our businesses and private lives, then we will ultimately destroy the earth.  Therefore businesses are evil and we should do everything in our power as citizens to SAVE THE EARTH and keep people from littering.  Because people who litter stop their littering ways when retail and grocery stores provide only reusable bags.

Right.

Unfortunately, at some point way back in the day, people thought the only way to solve their problems was to ask the government to fix their problems for them (read: regulate).  Ever since then, governments – local, state and federal – have always been happy to take on more power and more responsibility, thus taking power from the citizens and consequently issuing ridiculous regulations and laws such as this “bag ban” in Austin.

We seem to have forgotten that government should be in the hands of the people, and the people alone.  Our government’s job is to keep us safe, make sure that we’re all being legitimate and fair in our business (just and equal measures), and deal with those who violate the rights of others.  Regulating how we run our businesses is not part of the government’s job.

So what should we do if we feel like our local businesses and citizens are being wasteful with the products they use, or if we see that our community has a littering problem?  Educate our citizens!  Write an article in the paper.  Speak up in your community organizations.  Clean up your own act, or your own street, or your own neighborhood.  Govern yourselves.   The answer is never more government regulation, but rather self-government.  Team up with other individuals or organizations and make your community aware of what seems to be an issue.

But don’t go too far – we must always allow for differences, both in opinion and operation.  If someone doesn’t like what you’re proposing, as long as they’re not oppressing you by stating their opinion or by their actions, then don’t worry about it.  This is the beauty of a free economy, built on a free-market system.  If your way of doing things is better, then the businesses that agree with you will thrive – and they will do so on their own, through competition.  We shouldn’t be suggesting to our governments that we want all of our businesses to be the same.  Let them be different!  They satisfy unique groups of customers – those who care about what kind of bags are being offered, and those who don’t.  And if you’re having a problem with littering, then work on the customers; don’t punish the businesses.

As is often the case, there are a dozen different ways to handle situations like this, but the answer is very rarely civil government.  It’s simply not the government’s business what kind of bags businesses are using.  Let the market decide – let the customers decide.  But regulation is not the answer.  And because people so often believe government regulations are the answer, regulations have largely become the problem.  Freedom and prosperity are the consequences of an unencumbered society and market.  The cream will rise to the top in a competitive free-market economy, and will do so on its own.

This is yet another example of how we must begin to take an account of our government – federal, state and local – and recognize that we have a responsibility to govern ourselves, and if we do so, our need for government regulation will almost completely disappear.

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