NYC Wants To Cash In on NY State’s Plastic Bag Ban with… A TAX on Paper Bags

P. Gardner Goldsmith | April 5, 2019
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History has shown that when they need cash – which is always – politicians won’t operate like business people.

They won’t offer things in exchange for voluntary patronage. They take the money through taxation, inflationary money-creation (stealing from your buying power), or borrowing, thus forcing future taxpayers to pay the bill. As a result, they’re continually searching for new ways to grab peoples’ money, and now, the New York City Council appears to have found another method.

As Jazz Shaw writes for, since the State of New York recently instituted a mandatory phase-out of single-use plastic shopping bags (which we know often are not single-use, because folks reuse them for holding trash, moving clothes, etc.), NYC’s City Council appears to see this as a golden opportunity to snatch some green.

As CBS 2 New York reports, they’ve proposed a law that would place a five-cent charge on paper bags.

All to push citizen behavior towards carrying reusable cloth bags and “save the environment” – while, of course, allowing the government vampire to suck a lot of money out of the economic system.

The argument against plastic bags on a state level was the typically myopic, non-economics-based one claiming that by banning plastic bags, the state would “save the environment” by decreasing the number of plastic bags that might be buried in landfills or clutter up the sea.

But, of course, that coercive state mandate has seen consumers shift to paper bags when they’re on the go, because, heck, sometimes we stupid people just don’t’ remember to carry our array of homespun backpacks and tote-bags with us everywhere we go.

And, as is the case with most government mandates, this unintended consequence has seen some “environmentally conscious” paladins cry for the fate of all the trees that will be harvested in order to make those paper bags.

But on every level, the practicalities of the state mandate against plastic, and this proposed city tax on paper, are problematic -- problematic in ways that only a truly free market can solve.

The state’s push away from plastic meant not only that more consumers and sellers would use paper, but that the very bags those market participants would use would be less hygienic and more likely to rupture when wet. Raw packaged meat, poultry, and fish, can leak, potentially contaminating fruits and vegetables with harmful toxins. Paper is more porous than plastic, and allows easier seepage of these toxins, even as it becomes weak and unusable. Likewise, rainstorms can be nightmares for people toting goods in paper.

Then there’s the trouble of cutting trees. Trees are a renewable resource, which is why industry professionals call logging on their lands harvesting. They have long-term investments in the forestland and replant to keep supply at a predictable level. Government doesn’t need to tax paper bags in order to save forests, because if there is a demand for more paper, there is an incentive for paper/wood suppliers to buy more land, harvest, and plant more trees. One of the amazing things about the free market is that, despite the fact that the US has a much larger population today than it did 100 years ago, economic productivity in farming, building, and tree harvesting has seen a rise in forestland. Meanwhile, government-run “pristine forests” are so poorly mismanaged, they see massive fires that not only destroy the forests, they destroy private property in those regions, even as the forest-running bureaucrats demand more tax cash.

And beneath the practical problems of piling government “solutions” atop government “solutions” is the fact that government is the problem.

It crowds out private property claims that would allow people to place prices on things like refuse, forestland, water, and ocean life. And it prevents people who could own that private property – from the trash that could pollute, to the forests and water that could be depleted or polluted – from knowing the costs of their actions and the losses other peoples’ actions might cause them.

On March 26, we discussed at MRCTV the fact that an Obama-appointed judge was telling the EPA it had to block oil exploration on 300,000 acres of federally-held and in Wyoming. And in the piece, I mentioned that the ethical and most efficient way to show how people value the environment is by recognizing private property rights to land and water

Without private ownership, first, we cant’ tell how much people value something, second, we can’t apply actual costs to those things, and, third, we can’t see real tortious claims for damages.

Real private property ownership forces potential polluters to have to shoulder the costs of their pollution. Right now, that system is mostly handled through the artificial interference of government trash and landfill/water disposal. As a result, government collects the trash and dumps it in the public land or ocean, circumventing the process of applying real costs to the collection, disposal, and storage of the refuse, and making it nearly impossible for people to recover damages should they not like what is being done to the land or water.

Allowing for private property ownership at every level applies responsibility and market values to everything, from a plastic bag to a paper one, from the convenience of one over another, and applies it to the costs of creation and disposal. Allowing for private property also allows for real tort claims to be filed if someone’s property or life were harmed or threatened.

So, New York politicians, try to break out of your poisonous bubble and learn something. You don’t have a right to tell others how to shop, and your answers to problems the government creates will not come from more government. They will come from allowing people to recognize potential problems, own private property, and attach real, quantifiable prices to the costs.

Lesson in economics and ethics over, NYC Council. I’d love to say you’ll all pass the test should it be given, but your record strongly indicates that you’d fail.

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