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Reblogged:Bag Bans Echo Pre-Enlightenment Law

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Writing at City Journal, John Tierney delivers a near-comprehensive broadside against the inane and dictatorial plastic bans that have been littering the legal landscape lately.

My primary complaint is that Tierney leaves unaddressed the fact that these laws violate individual rights. That aside, Tierney thoroughly covers many aspects of the phenomenon, from the flimsy arguments greens make for them, through the widely-held (but incorrect) belief that the bans reduce pollution on land and sea, and all the way to why politicians keep pressing for more of the bans, despite the fact that they are unpopular even in many leftish areas.

The piece is about 4,000 words, so it will take some time, but I strongly recommend it to anyone concerned about the numerous intrusions on liberty coming from the green left -- and even more so to anyone wishing to reduce the problem of plastic pollution. (Spoiler alert: Bans and recycling are making that problem worse on top of making us less free.) Below are excerpts pertinent to each of the points I just noted Tierney making.

1. On the flimsy arguments in favor of banning single-use plastics, we learn that they are not even a major component of American street litter:

Why do greens seem oblivious to the fact that the hydrocarbons here are about to be put into the ground? (Image by Brian Yurasits, via Unsplash, license.)
It's true that some plastic in America is littered on beaches and streets, and some of it winds up in sewer drains. But researchers have found that laws restricting plastic bags (which account for less than 2 percent of litter) and food containers do not reduce litter (a majority of which consists of cigarette butts and paper products). The resources wasted on these anti-plastic campaigns would be better spent on more programs to discourage littering and to pick up everything that's discarded -- a direct approach that has proved effective.
2. Regarding causes of plastic pollution in the ocean, we learn that plastic recycling programs are a far more significant cause than the single-use plastics being banned:
ome of the plastic from your recycling bin has probably ended up in the ocean because it has gone to a country with a high rate of "mismanaged waste." At the rudimentary recycling plants in Asia, some of the plastic waste leaks out into the environment, and much of the imported waste doesn't even reach a legitimate recycling plant. Journalists and environmentalists have been collecting horror stories in Malaysia and Indonesia of Western plastics piling up at illegal dumps and spewing toxins when they're burned in backyard kitchens. The people living near the dumps and recycling operations complain that foreign plastics are fouling their air and polluting their rivers. [links omitted]
3. And, finally, a word on what motivates this new scourge of immoral, impractical, and annoying laws -- which Tierney shows to be remarkably similar to ancient sumptuary laws:
The laws didn't curb the public's sinful appetite for luxury or contribute to national prosperity, but they comforted the social elite, protected special interests, enriched the coffers of church and state, and generally expanded the prestige and power of the ruling class. For nobles whose wealth was eclipsed by nouveau-riche merchants, the laws reinforced their social status. The restrictions on imported luxuries shielded local industries from competition. The fines collected for violations provided revenue for the government, which could be shared with religious leaders who supported the laws. Even when a law wasn't widely enforced, it could be used selectively to punish a political enemy or a commoner who got too uppity.
There aren't many people who actually support banning single-use plastics, but they are out there and exercise disproportionate influence. This article is a good one to read and have in mind in case you have a chance to counteract the ill-informed opinions, outright myths, and despicable shaming attempts that are being used to support these bans.

In a better world, we'd be able to use plastic bags and straws -- and toss them into the trash -- without being scolded about it. But we live in this world, and unless we begin to fight back, we will lose these simple (and surprisingly valuable) liberties.

-- CAV

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