A while back, the town of Brunswick, Maine, which I visit monthly, enacted a ban on plastic bags in most retailers. The town next door, Topsham, enacted a five cent fee for the purchase of any “non-reusable” bag. I personally do not find this to be a huge hardship. I started making my own bags years ago from a pole street scraps. I was getting strange looks from retailers, For 15 years before plastic bag bands were even a conversation. But in fact, I do use both plastic and paper bags for other things.

While my survey was informal, I asked many people what they did with the plastic and paper bags they got at the grocery store. Some common answers were using them as a small trashcan liner, using them as a bag to transport anything where you didn’t want that back, such as taking things to Goodwill, and disposing of kitty litter was also a popular answer, as well as picking up dog poop. Paper bags had similar transportation uses, but also for storing recyclable materials since they could simply be thrown out in the recycling bin. My cousin favored brown paper for starting fires in her wood stove. Although I have no idea how uncommon THAT was. The upshot, is that these are not single use bags.

The bans in Brunswick and Topsham passed largely without any disagreement on the part of the politicians involved. They did not pass without protest. In Brunswick a number of small businesses made a very legitimate point that the ban placed a burden on them in terms of the amount of space it took to store paper versus plastic bags, the expense of paper versus plastic, and their right to do business as they chose. None of the larger of businesses in town, such as Hannaford’s, protested the ban. Why?

Because any limitation on human behavior set up by politicians is going to benefit big business in some way. Even when that limitation includes the big business. That is because any limitation puts a much bigger strain on a small business versus a large business. Big businesses by definition have more leeway in a regulatory system. They can afford lawyers, and they have a larger pool of resources. They are happy to have the competition from smaller businesses limited. A big business is not likely to go out of business because of legal limitations. A small business however is very likely to do so. But let’s look a little more closely at the benefit that Hannaford – just for example – would get from a plastic bag ban.

If people do not have access to plastic grocery bags, they must then buy all of the things for which they were using what was previously a free resource. The primary source for these plastic bags, is a grocery store. How much money does the grocery store save by not having to provide them? Then there are all the other uses that those bags then go to. If people don’t have those plastic bags anymore, what will they use to put in wastebaskets, scoop the kitty litter, and pick up dog poop? Of course they’re going to have to buy some plastic bags from the grocery store. And who benefits from that?

One should also ask who is hurt by such a ban? Generally that would be us, the consumers. In particular consumers who have little money to spend. Suddenly a product that was free, now cost some money. So it’s not that there is now less plastic in the environment. It’s just that now we have to pay to put that plastic into the environment.

How smart is that?

There’s some more specific analysis about the amount of one type of plastic versus the other, as well as the environmental impact of using those plastic grocery bags versus fabric grocery bags. Because yes there is environmental impact with using fabric bags. I made mine from fabric that would have otherwise been thrown out. But the vast majority of people are actually going to just buy pre-made ones, and like all production that has its own costs. Then there is the fact that the United States and Western Europe contribute no more than 2% to the plastic garbage that’s floating around in the ocean.

What I am left with is that these bans- or taxes – do not serve the stated purpose of helping the environment. Quite the opposite. So what purpose do they serve?

One might look first at who they are helping. Certainly large grocery store chains. But they also help politicians. Human behavior is very complex. Laws designed to change that behavior can never take those complexities into account. Unless of course the problem is overly simplified and all nuance removed. Once people are upset about something, the urge to DO SOMETHING can become overwhelming. This is the urge to which politicians respond. The politicians ONE JOB, is to pass or repeal laws. And the only way they can do that – and thus get reelected by the small number of people who actually vote – especially in local elections, is to pass a law.

Passage of such laws, has another benefit. It allows people who generally agree that a particular thing is bad or good, to behave in a tribal fashion. To agree publicly that it is good to use your fabric bags, is social signaling. It says that one is part of a tribe, a group, where we can all agree and get along. We are built to be tribal. It is part of our DNA, and we evolved to interact with groups of approximately 150 people. Our survival depended on it. And the urge to DO SOMETHING , feels like a survival issue as well.

But it only feels that way. The truth is that plastic bag bans do nothing at all whatsoever to help the environment. They help big businesses and hurt small businesses, they do not in fact reduce waste, and they put a greater burden on the consumer, especially the poor. The worst thing about them, is that they allow people, and politicians, to believe that they have done something effective, when all they have done is waste everyone’s time. And once something is ensconced in law, It becomes very very difficult to change.

Actually doing something, involves individual actions. Actions that might include personally picking up litter along the sides of the road, sending one’s own money to the organization that is starting to clean up the plastic in the ocean, or educating oneself beyond what public pundits and politicians, let alone our communities of choice have to say on any given issue. But that takes time and energy, and it’s so much easier to just let politicians pass a law. Then everyone can just feel better about themselves, and forget about the problem for a while.

Open Letter (libertarian version)

An open letter to friends and family who are certainly not shocked to discover I’m a libertarian, which used to be called classically liberal. That doesn’t mean what a lot of you apparently think it does.
Let’s break it down, shall we? Because quite frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. There are LOT of strawman arguments out there. Spoiler alert: Not every classical liberal is the same, though the majority of classical liberals I know think along roughly these same lines:

  1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period. This should not be the main job of government because such care is something for which we are better off being personally responsible whenever possible. We are better humans when we volunteer and give our OWN money instead of someone else’s.
  2. I believe healthcare is not right, nor a privilege. Healthcare is a commodity. A commodity that is supplied by human beings who cannot and should not be forced to work more than they are physically and psychologically able. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. I’m opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen because I don’t believe the government regulation is the best solution to healthcare access. We did not have a free market system of healthcare before Obamacare and we have not attempted to do so in the United States in the 20th century. Singapore has a system that has far more market freedom in the United states currently has. And healthcare is far more accessible to the poor there.
  3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt. I believe this is best achieved by not subsidizing loans which do not reduce price of education but increases it.
  4. I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work. I believe that people on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder should be a given opportunities to climb up it and make their own lives better. Stopping the war on drugs, removing petty fines and fees that are most often leveraged on the poor, changing restrictions on inexpensive housing, removing some restrictions on who gets to provide healthcare, and not creating incentives for people to be nonproductive would go a long way toward alleviating chronic dependency.
  5. I’m not willing to pay higher taxes, because I want to use that money to voluntarily contribute to causes that I feel are important. (See #1) That includes helping those who are disadvantaged. I might also help people by using that capital to start a business and employing some other people; starting them on the ladder towards wealth.
  6. I believe companies should pay their employees according to the value that they bring to the business. People who work in low-paying jobs should have the opportunity to move up in the world, and not be trying to support themselves living on flipping burgers. That is no way to spend a life. I support people learning the skills to get or create a better job.
  7. I am not anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim or any other religion. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. All I ask is that people of other religions recognize my right to live according to my beliefs, as long as those beliefs do not infringe on the civil rights of my fellow citizens.
  8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the same rights as you.
  9. I don’t believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but it seems like there must be more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc). I would like to hear some more creative solutions.
  10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, if fact I think a freer market would do a better job of handling environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods, medical equipment, especially in the age of the internet where any individual business will be publicly assessed.
    I trust that people trying to make money are motivated to have their customers return again and again, which means they will will be responsible about the safety of their product. If they should fail in this or become careless, I should have the right to sue for full damages, that amount to not be restricted by law, and government should be there to act as a referee.
  11. I believe our current administration is authoritarian, but not more so than administrations going back to Coolidge. Some have been more socially authoritarian, and some have been more fiscally authoritarian.
  12. I believe systemic racism and misogyny in our society needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of civil liberties. Convincing people to behave in a more civil way cannot be done by chastising them. This only creates ill will and resentment.
  13. I believe we have enough gun laws. There are currently thousands of gun laws, and even at the the federal level, many are unenforced. We do not need more. The world is not a safe place and when otherwise law-abiding people are penalized for owning firearms, this in no way makes the world a better place. Nor does it save children’s lives
  14. I believe in good manners. If someone wants to be referred to by a pronoun that is counter-intuitive for me, I will set aside my feelings and do my best to accommodate. I will not call people names and say please and thank you, and offer appropriate honorifics no matter someone’s skin color, gender, or religious preferences. I think that making manners a matter of law is an efficient way to make good manners meaningless, and to make people resentful.
  15. I believe in voluntary funding of sustainable energy. Governments are not better at picking winners or losers than are individuals, and individuals should make those choices of how to invest for themselves, not be forced to do so at gunpoint.
  16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should be free from abuse, and have the right to decide if they wish to carry a child in their body for 9 months.

I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I’m a liberatarian because I think we all – rich and poor, whatever one’s skin color, ethnicity, or gender – thrive and do best when we have the freedom to associate with each other as we choose and to make contracts and agreements without the interference and financial skimming of governments.

The Greater Good

A hand over my nose and mouth pressing down.
I can’t move because he is stronger than me.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t get away.
My heart is racing. The tiny sips of air that I can pull in are not enough
Am I going to die at the hands of this man who thinks I’m trying to control him?

I did not die.
I am writing this.

But it took years, therapy, and a lot of practice and training to be able to interact with men without that terror dogging my heart and lungs.
Finally I’ve been able to go about my business.
Have a husband.
A life.

And now it all comes back.
Not because I got involved with another jerk.
Because my governor decided to make medical decisions.

And now I can’t go engage in simple pleasures without that hand over my mouth and nose.
I can’t workout with my friends.
I can’t go shopping.
I’m not allowed because it’s “dangerous.”

More dangerous than wanting to drown my anxiety and distress in alcohol or drugs?
More dangerous than wanting to drive my car into a pole?
More dangerous than driving at all?
Or going swimming in the ocean?

If it were given a choice. (no one asked me)
If my privacy was respected. (random strangers feel free to comment on my choices)
If I had evidence my life would might be saved by wearing one (I read studies and no such evidence exists)

Then I think I could find a way to wear one. 

But I cannot convince my subconscious this is voluntary,

When random strangers feel free to comment on my choices
When the governor has said he will fine people for not wearing them

What kind of person thinks that much control over another is a good thing? 

I know I’m not alone. 

But where I live, my kind are silenced by strangers.
Silenced by executive orders.
Silenced by social media.

They tell me
My feelings don’t matter (think of the greater good)
My rights don’t matter (think of the greater good)
My pain is irrelevant (to the greater good)
My pain is irrelevant (to the greater good)
My terror doesn’t matter.
My helplessness doesn’t matter.
I don’t matter.

Only everyone else matters. 

And I must be a horrible person if I disagree.