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Liberals and Their Unintended Consequences
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If the law of unintended consequences was actually a law enacted by legislators, it would likely be of no consequence at all. Unfortunately it’s a force of nature, not of man.
When the government has exerted force to raise the minimum wage by fiat outside of free markets, the result is immediate higher unemployment among minimum wage earners.
When seat belts went into effect, the number of traffic accidents actually increased. Economist Sam Peltzman discovered that total fatalities were about the same as before the seat belt law. But while the death rate for motorists decreased, there was a higher death rate among pedestrians and cyclists hit by cars. Why? The seat belt gives drivers a false sense of extra security, encouraging them to drive more recklessly.
This brings us to lawmakers who have decided that banning plastic grocery bags or nudging people away from using them by charging five or ten cents per bag will save the occasional sea turtle from eating one, thinking it’s a jellyfish.
It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it?
Supporters of these bills will cite thousands of bags menacing beaches and hyperopic fish. Good-hearted citizens will cheer and feel good about “doing something” to save the environment, then drive home past massive, mostly hidden graveyards of truck and car tires.
Depending upon your view, it’s either unfortunate or no big deal that there’s a direct correlation to banning plastic bags and the deaths of more than five people each year in a city the size of San Francisco.
According to a study by two university professors, it’s actually 5.5 people in San Francisco who die each year as a direct result of the grocery plastic bag ban.
For some people, that’s a fair trade for potentially, possibly, maybe saving a turtle.
San Francisco has been leading the fight against plastic bags. In 2007, the Environmental Department of the City of San Francisco reported plastics bags distributed by retail stores account for 0.6 percent of litter.
Six tenths of one percent.
A federal EPA study found plastic bags make up four tenths of one percent of our country’s municipal waste stream.
Four tenths of one percent.
Back in 2013, Ramesh Ponnuru noted news reports from around the country describing illnesses caused by reusable grocery bags.
“A reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea that struck nine of 13 members of a girls’ soccer team,” Ponnuru reported. “Researchers examined reusable bags in California and Arizona and found that 51 percent of them contained coliform bacteria.”
The most extensive study seems to be that of University of Pennsylvania Professor Jonathan Klick and George Mason University Professor Joshua Wright.
They found that as soon as the ban went into effect, emergency-room admissions related to E. coli infections increased in San Francisco. It’s their study that estimates the ban is directly responsible for a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any study measuring the number of sea turtles saved per human death.
The difference is that human deaths are preventable if humans would just wash and disinfect their reusable bags. 97 percent don’t.
Huntington Beach, CA has rescinded their plastic bag ban, realizing it’s just “token environmentalism” with no real effect except more grocery store profits.
One city council member said, “Our ordinance has not had any positive, measurable impact on the environment and has only caused headaches for citizens and small businesses alike.”
Delaware is considering the ill-conceived notion of forcing grocery stores to charge five cents for every plastic bag distributed.
The danger is in having citizens believe they’re doing something positive when the opposite is true, giving them a false sense of accomplishment or security, like gun buy-backs.
Perhaps this is to be presumed in a state run by Democrats who think they’re so awesome that they have sponsored legislation extending their terms in the state house and state senate by two years.
Americans who would actually like term limits, not extensions, are obviously not currently living the life of the electoral elite.
Rick Jensen is Delaware’s award-winning conservative talk show host. Contact Rick at, or follow him on Twitter @Jensen1150WDEL