Columnists, Featured, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Uncategorized

Caldara: Colorado bag ban an arrogant exercise of power

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

It’s not the banning of plastic bags that pisses us off. It’s the intolerance and abuse of power behind it.

Plastic shopping bags are now forbidden in Colorado. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the worst inconvenience or even most expensive headache our state government has thrown at us.

I mean, just bring a reusable bag to the supermarket — no biggie.

So why does it anger us so? Because we can feel it in our bones. Instinctively we understand this is a senseless exhibition of raw, unbridled power by an elite who smugly know how others should live.

There are plenty of big, complex issues for us to dissect from different angles — think abortion, monetary policy, Ukraine and the Middle East. Banning plastic bags by contrast is small enough for us to get our hands and minds around.

And we’re not nearly as angry about the bother of not having the bags as we are about that nagging feeling in the back of our heads, that little voice that says if they can force us to do something this stupid and meaningless, what isn’t off limits?

Let’s again get the argument that this is somehow useful policy out of the way.

Banning plastic bags does absolutely nothing to protect Colorado’s environment. In fact, it’s marginally more destructive since people will be forced to buy truly single-use bags to clean up after their dogs and line their trash cans.

I remember the government school, in Soviet re-education camp style, teaching my kid to sing the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” song. Is there a better example of “reuse” then plastic grocery bags? We use them to carry other stuff, pick up dog poop and line trash bags, among a host of other uses.

The brand-new strictly single-use bags we’ll have to buy now for those functions are not made from natural gas like shopping bags. They’re made from petroleum and will be around a lot longer.

Congratulations, environmentalists. You won a Pyrrhic victory.

And, likewise, it won’t save ocean life. Enviros love to talk about a plastic straw found in the nose of a sea turtle, but guaranteed it didn’t come from landlocked Colorado. Even if it got into the water supply, the many water treatment facilities it would have to get through before hitting the ocean would stop it.

Reduce litter? Perhaps on the margin. So ban bottles, beer cans and gum wrappers, too. Wouldn’t it be better to enforce the litter laws? Clearing the homeless off our streets would do 1,000 times more to get litter out of our communities.

So why are they forcing us to live with this inconvenience that has absolutely, positively, without a doubt no environmental benefit? I see two possible explanations.

The first is the most effective tactic the left employs: boiling the frog slowly. Like compound interest, the power of small incremental despotic change over time is unstoppable.

As people acclimate to a restriction, it becomes the new baseline. The command-and-control crowd uses the “new normal” ratchet to build tolerance of their authoritarianism in the hearts and minds of those they rule.

A government that takes away plastic bags today will take away gas stoves tomorrow, and gasoline powered cars soon after.

But it’s the other explanation that is more distressing. They do this just because they can.

The left is smitten with virtue signaling and just can’t resist forcing you to do their signaling, too. All it takes is a wave of their dictatorial hand.

So, instead of convincing us to join them in their lifestyle choices, they coerce us through the power of law. It takes only 33 representatives, 18 senators and our “libertarian” governor to force their lifestyle on us.

It is pure arrogance. It is an exercise in raw dictatorial power and intolerance. And it’s an addiction our leaders couldn’t shake even if they did recognize it.

It’s not the bad, even comical public policy that quietly terrifies us.

Though we don’t verbalize it, it hits us in our hearts.

Though “small,” we know this is a violation of all the principles we hold dear — our liberty, our pursuit of happiness, our right to be autonomous creatures in a free society.

On some level we know, they are just beating us down.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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