Rocco: Cash for Plastic

Yes, that’s right, its a (rather limp) play on words. And, yes, this is an article about carrier bags. But it’ll be fun, trust me.

Amazingly, I’ve been accused at least a couple of times here on this site of being a Left winger. More amazing still, there is an element of truth in this. I’m opposed to State power (to put it mildly) and historically movements against State power were regarded as Leftist and supporters of State power regarded as Rightists. Take Classical Liberalism. That was a revolutionary, progressive creed, that aimed to overthrow traditional power structures so as to advance the interests of the common man. The loudest voices and the most powerful opposition to the birth of capitalism came from the obviously Rightist aristocratic class. Marxism (an offshoot of Classical Liberalism) has anti-state elements, too, of course. Even Nationalism was initially a Left wing phenomenon, as it arose in opposition to the then dominant Imperialism. Nationalist movements were fighting for independence from their imperial oppressors.

Now, I’m not a Classical Liberal. (Neither am I a Marxist, nor a Nationalist, you’ll be pleased to hear.) But I am a great admirer of the French laissez faire economist and politician, Frederic Bastiat. What’s that got to do with anything, you ask? Well, in the National Assembly – the seating arrangement of which gave us our Left/Right political terminology – Bastiat sat on the left side, not the right. The left side. The same Bastiat who said “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else”. The same Bastiat who did so much to combat protectionism wherever he found it. The same Bastiat who refuted Keynes’ General Theory roughly three quarters of a century before Keynes wrote it. That Bastiat. And if being a Lefty was good enough for Bastiat, then its good enough for me.

Now, like any rabid Leftist worth his salt, I despise the Daily Mail. As of late the Mail has been running a campaign to outlaw the plastic bag, called, revealingly, “Banish the Bags”. I had initially wanted to call this piece “Banish the Mail”, but I’m going to save that title for when the strikes against privatisation kick off. [Incidentally, the Mail’s Simon Heffer opposes privatisation of the Royal Mail because it’s “a strategic arm of the state”. Precisely the reason it should be privatised. That’s my first ever quote, by the way. Wooh! Journalism!] This campaign whilst not being successful in banishing bags entirely, has at least born fruit. As of 2015, supermarkets and “large” stores will be forced by the State to charge 5p for each carrier bag. What a great victory for liberalism, eh?

Apparently, due to bags being free, us heartless bastards are using far too many of them. And so there’s loads of them knocking about, which is causing loads of problems. Dogs are getting all tangled up in them. Cats are becoming confused and making their nests in them. Gerbils are using them to smuggle drugs into their cages. Take a closer look at the hedge at the bottom of your garden, and you’ll see its not a hedge at all. Its just tens of thousands of plastic bags that the wind has formed into the shape of a hedge. I bet you wish you hadn’t spent all that time trimming it now, don’t you?

Right, that’s the “environmental problems” dealt with. Now we can press on to the important stuff.

Notwithstanding the opinions of the bag-bashers, carrier bags are not free. A shop must take account of the cost of the bags it gives out in some way. You might not have to hand over money for a bag at the checkout, but you are paying for it. You’re paying for it with imperceptible additions to the cost of each of the items in your trolly. Bags are “free” in the same way the interior lighting you use to not trip over whilst shopping is “free”. Bags are “free at the checkout” in the same way State services are “free at the point of delivery”, ie, not free at all.

So, you’re going to be forced to pay twice. Its a tax on bags. A bag tax. Taxes are going up. And this is a source of great joy for the Mail. There is also a wonderful insight to be had here, into what the State regards as “voluntary”. You see, the State gave shops the chance to “voluntarily” reduce the number of bags they gave out, or the State would force them to reduce the number of bags they gave out. Very Don Corleone! And this, too, is a source of great joy for the Mail.

As mentioned above, the tax will only be levied on bags from supermarkets and large stores. This is because to apply it to small and medium sized shops would be “burdensome”, according to an unnamed Lib Dem source. So don’t worry, it won’t be “burdensome” if its only supermarkets and large stores that it applies to, because…erm… Of course it’ll still be “burdensome”, you unnamed fool! It’ll be even more “burdensome” than if it only applied to small and medium sized shops, because carrier bags are most used by, and most needed by, customers of supermarkets and large shops. Honestly! No wonder he didn’t want to be named.

Am I being unfair? Is there a sense in which our nameless Lib Dem is correct? There is actually. Though its precisely the wrong thing to be right about. The “burden” referred to, is the burden on the producer. Yes, the customer will be burdened, but no one cares about the customer’s interest, do they? Certainly no one in government anyway. In a laissez faire economy everything is aimed towards maximising consumer satisfaction. In what is disgracefully called “capitalism” today, things are ‘organised’ so that the producer interest doesn’t find them “burdensome”.

Another reason not to be worried is that the majority is behind this policy (or so its alleged), so its dead democratic like. Now, why, if there was a genuine popular feeling against bags, would there be a need for State intervention? No one is forced to use plastic bags. They are free to refuse them. There are alternatives readily available. So, the need for State intervention comes not from a popular anti-bag disposition, but from the lack of any such popular disposition. Democratic indeed.

Finally, let me explain why I said the slogan was revealing. Think of the word ‘banish’. Visualise its meaning. You’re thinking of a King sat on his throne casting out an unworthy subject, aren’t you? You’re not thinking of shoppers voluntarily avoiding plastic bags because they’ve become convinced that the costs outweigh the benefits. No. What you are thinking of is a naked exercise of State power. Which is as it should be, for that is exactly what this is.

No one should have a problem with shops charging extra for bags, per se. As private enterprises they should be let alone to do what they want. But that the State should take it upon itself to force businesses to act in a manner at odds with the wishes of their customers? Well, that is a different story. That Britain’s most popular newspaper should cheer the State on in this? Well, that is revolting. And that any Liberal should see the Daily Mail as an ally? Well, that’s just bizarre.


16 comments on “Rocco: Cash for Plastic

  1. Maneno
    September 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Surely the anti-baggists should be most happy if plastic bags were recycled. I bet that they are more cost effective in their usable lifetime than other types of bag so potentially less wasteful.
    So I propose: 5p per bag but you can take it back and reclaim your 5p. Imagine ! The countryside will be stripped clean of plastic bags as people seek their fortune. After all , we used to get refund on glass bottles like Corona. I used to work in the cleaning plant loading dirty bottles into the steam cleaner one end and stacking the clean ones the other.
    The Labour/Liberals can fund this with a tax on farting (global warming so a double winner !)

  2. Rocco
    September 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Maneno, I’m not sure whether you’re serious or not. So, I’ll play it safe and just thank you kindly for taking the time to comment. Especially so for your persevering in the face of the unfortunate technical problem.

    Well, I assume it’s a technical problem – who knows, perhaps Paul Dacre is attempting to sabotage me!

    • Maneno
      September 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      Only the bit about working in the Corona bottle plant was not a joke Rocco

      • Rocco
        September 23, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

        Oh, thank goodness for that!

  3. mikebravo
    September 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    I use the things for kitchen bin liners. Now I will have to buy bin liners as well. Fucking libdem wankers. Why don’t they just fuck off and die?

  4. Fabian the Fabulous
    September 23, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    In spite of the Daily Mail and in spite of the government and its taxes, plastic bags that festoon hedgerows are a menace which I’d be glad to be rid of.

    • Rocco
      September 23, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

      That’s cool, Fabian. So, whenever you’ve got some free time, you can go around picking them out. Perhaps you can organize a group of like minded fellows to help you. Or perhaps you could try and convince the public at large to either stop using plastic bags, or stop littering with them.
      I’d have no problem with any of this. And like I said in the piece, I’d have no problem with shops charging extra for bags, if they did so voluntarily. “Anything voluntary” that’s my motto. It’s only a problem when force is used.

      • Fabian the Fabulous
        September 24, 2013 at 12:10 am #

        Thankyou for thoughtful suggestion. How very “cool” you are.

      • Rocco
        September 24, 2013 at 12:21 am #

        Oh, Fabian, how incredibly sweet of you!
        And the quotation marks make it mean all the more.

  5. Anthem
    September 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Good stuff again Rocco but this place is in danger of becoming a bit plasticbagophile and philes are almost as bad as ists these days.

    • Rocco
      September 23, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

      Thank you, Anthem. Yeah, I was a little hesitant of putting this up after Russell’s excellent piece last week. It was just pure coincidence that we both did something on this. When I saw Russell’s piece I was about 95% finished with this, and given they are quite different, I didn’t want to just throw it away.

      But, trust me, next weeks piece will be very different. It’s about the Right to Privacy. (If you don’t mind spoilers, you can check out the comments for James Eadon’s “Email sent” column from this weekend for a preview.)

      • Anthem
        September 24, 2013 at 6:33 am #

        Will look forward to it. Completely missed James Eadon’s article but just had a skim through it and the interesting debate in the comments section.

  6. Fabian the Fabulous
    September 24, 2013 at 12:51 am #

    Crikey, Rocco, you’re not Dellers’ teenage alter-ego, are you!

    • Rocco
      September 24, 2013 at 12:58 am #

      I honestly don’t know if you mean that as a compliment or an insult, Fabian.
      (Or a statement or a question, for that matter.)

  7. concretebunker
    September 24, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Rocco, As always I enjoy your insites and clarity of thought. Unfortunately with our current “elite” we are buggered. Living in Wales we have had this absurd 5p charge for a while.
    Liberty is a fine thought but how do you remove the addiction of socialism. Its like asking a crack addict to go cold turkey. Its one way road with no uturn just a variable speed Limit!

    • Rocco
      September 24, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      First, thank you, sir. New to this writing stuff as I am, it’s good to know that I don’t come across as some kind of lunatic (although, it’s early days yet, of course!).

      Yes, unfortunately there are overwhelming reasons to be pessimistic in the short run. Absent a cataclysmic event of some sort, the chances of even a moderate reduction in the size of the State are miniscule at present.
      But if we keep in mind that the world we live in now is the result of ideas, we might be more optimistic about the long run. Ideas can change, and ideas can be changed. They can even be changed for the better. It may take a long time, but it’s not impossible.

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