Devil in the Retail

Via a reader on Twitter, an academic paper on one of this blog’s favourite subjects, the effectiveness of banning single-use plastic bags. Here’s the abstract:

Leakage occurs when partial regulation of consumer products results in increased consumption of these products in unregulated domains. This article quantifies plastic leakage from the banning of plastic carryout bags. Using quasi-random policy variation in California, I find the elimination of 40 million pounds of plastic carryout bags is offset by a 12 million pound increase in trash bag purchases—with small, medium, and tall trash bag sales increasing by 120%, 64%, and 6%, respectively. The results further reveal 12–22% of plastic carryout bags were reused as trash bags pre-regulation and show bag bans shift consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. With a substantial proportion of carryout bags already reused in a way that avoided the manufacture and purchase of another plastic bag, policy evaluations that ignore leakage effects overstate the regulation’s welfare gains.

Oh. It might have been useful to analyse second-order effects before imposing sweeping legislation, no?

The trouble is, despite environmentalists’ claims to be believers in “science”, what we’re dealing with here are religious fanatics. They’ve decided plastic is the devil’s material and therefore any move which appears to reduce its use sets mankind along the path of righteousness. All the academic research in the world isn’t going to make a dent in the propaganda pumped out by the United Church of Modern Environmentalism; you might as well go to Mecca during the hajj and start picking holes in bits of the Koran.

That’s not to say this paper and others like it aren’t useful; they are vital in demonstrating that people’s views on the environment are in large part spiritual, not rational. This is important because those who advocate these policies generally consider themselves atheists whose beliefs are based on scientific data (albeit that which they’d not have the foggiest idea how to interpret without the “guidance” of the contemporary equivalent of a religious hierarchy). The evidence suggests it’s rather pointless to tell a man who claims to be pious that his behaviour suggests otherwise. But I’ve found there is considerable traction in admiring the spiritual commitment of so-called atheists and remarking that they’d be quite at home in a busy-bodying church.

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15 thoughts on “Devil in the Retail

  1. Its one of the problems of modern government – the inability (or refusal) to consider second and third order effects. Its probably gotten worse over time as the State sector has largely become the domain of the Left, particularly at the level where decisions are made. Thus all the people charged with drafting new laws and regulations etc are of a socialist bent – they consider that society can be controlled like a puppet on a string. Pull this one, that happens etc. The idea that pulling a certain string might result in the the exact opposite result would never cross their mind. There are few if any sensible people left within the system (as we see over Brexit) and they are invariably shouted down even if they dare put their heads above the parapet.

    Short of an Ecksian purge of the entire State apparatus I cannot see how this will change.

  2. Although I’m pissed off that you consider it necessary to slag off anyone who doesn’t believe in your imaginary friend in the sky, and wish to point out that the correlation between atheism and Gaia worship is weak, a visit to most atheist pages on Facebook is enough to put one off atheism for life.

    Here’s a strictly sceptical atheist page for you to follow or troll, according to taste, admined by (ahem) yours truly. https://www.facebook.com/Atheists-Skeptics-Southern-Africa-333648589980168/

  3. Its one of the problems of modern government – the inability (or refusal) to consider second and third order effects. Its probably gotten worse over time as the State sector has largely become the domain of the Left, particularly at the level where decisions are made. Thus all the people charged with drafting new laws and regulations etc are of a socialist bent – they consider that society can be controlled like a puppet on a string

    Those organisations spend a lot of time and effort talking about and implementing diversity, but they restrict it to physical diversity. They don’t put any effort in to ensuring that they get intellectual diversity.

    Its probably in part because free marketers and assorted classic liberals and libertarians tend to be averse to working for government and the likes of the BBC in the first place. No doubt once those organisations have been seized they don’t go looking for it and even set up a climate that disparages free thought. Group think is the outcome.

  4. Although I’m pissed off that you consider it necessary to slag off anyone who doesn’t believe in your imaginary friend in the sky

    I’ve no problem with atheists, and I’m a non-believer myself. My issue is more with people who subscribe wholesale to a purely spiritual movement while at the same time saying they renounce religion.

    I’m not anti-religious, though. The atheists that are tend to be complete arseholes, as you say.

  5. Yep. Good to have the obvious stated by some men in white coats, I suppose, if only for the cognitive dissonance it will induce in the wankers.

    Round our way, the council provides bags for dog shit at local parks. I now use nothing else to pick up after the dog, where of course before I had recycled grocery bags. Thus the part-costs of owning a dog are transferred from me and/or the supermarkets to local ratepayers.

    Also: supermarkets brought in the “assisted checkout” – i.e. the one where you scan in the items yourself, without assistance – just before the bag bans. This means that the apparatus was designed with disposable bags in mind, so the hooks that enable you to bag the items unassisted are all at the wrong height for the larger recyclable bag, which thus won’t stay upright, flops over, and you have to faff about to get the first few items in there…

    It’s a small thing, but these small irritations add up, and are suffered for nothing.

  6. At my usual Waitrose the bags are hung in the weighed area of the automated checkout, but due to the bag hysteria you have to scan the barcode on them so they can charge you the 10p. Removing the bag to scan it triggers the weighing mechanism and you get an “item removed from bagging area” alert.

    As such I usually take a bag from an unattended neighbouring checkout, disabling that with the alert in the process and requiring the assistant to spend time resetting it. Not sure if the overall loss of productivity in this scenario is a second or third order effect but it is tedious nonetheless.

  7. This still means that the amount of plastic used has decreased overall, does it not? The war on bags could still be claimed as a success based on this data.

  8. This still means that the amount of plastic used has decreased overall, does it not?

    If we assume there are no other second-order effects being overlooked.

  9. It may well be beyond the memory of posting man, but here in our part of the US, the disposable plastic bag was first forced on us by these same “environmentalist” whackos that want to ban it now. Reasoning was that the paper bags which had heretofore been the One True Way ™ of bringing home your groceries and other purchases were Destroying Our Forests ™, and needed to go. The plastic was advertised as being more easily recyclable, and requiring less in the way of resources for manufacture, shipping, and storage. Nobody liked the plastic bags, and it took dire threats to make them the standard. Even now, you ask for paper at those retailers that have it, and you get Strange Looks because you’re an obvious eccentric, much like someone still using written checks.

    It’s another example of the Activist Left having successfully conditioned the rest of us to Do Something, and having exerted their will, they’re on to something else. It’s quite like they view themselves as some sort of deranged animal trainer with us as their subject, and they’re just jerking us around for their own entertainment.

    At least, this is the impression that most of the public have of the issue, and many of us are rather tired and jaded of it. The hypocrisies and contradictions are increasingly clear with this lot of fantasist interventionists, and I don’t see them being able to pull off their little acts for much longer before the general public is on to them and just ignores their earnest little petitions and suchlike.

    Another thing along this line is that it is becoming clear just how bad most of their science has been–We destroyed the US timber industry here in the Northwest US in the name of saving the sainted Spotted Owl, which was going extinct ‘cos “logging”. Well, we stopped 90% of the logging, bankrupted entire rural regions, and, very oddly, the beloved Spotted Owl is still going extinct, being pushed out of its range by the nearly indistinguishable and much more successful at being an owl Barred Owl. They also apparently cross-breed, so it’s not like the forests are going without the essential services of an owl in the ecosystem. Yet, the human communities who relied on timber harvesting are mostly gone, bankrupted, and the forests are rapidly filling up with fuels for the next major series of conflagrations which are likely to be blamed, again, on human activities that will need to be stopped.

    Frankly, the thing I’m coming around to is that the moment that someone shows up with a petition for you to sign for some “public good”, that ought to be something which gives you the right to initiate lethal self-defense measures. Nothing positive ever comes out of these little “do-gooder” enterprises–There are always second- and third-order effects that obviate the supposed benefits. Back when they were taking away the paper bags, nobody thought to ask about biodegradability, or the effect of all that plastic that didn’t get recycled. It was all about the paper products, and reducing the need for harvesting trees.

    Another problem with it all is that nobody really does the full analysis: What energies are saved by paper vs. plastic? Factor in the lighter weight, the smaller storage areas, and all the rest, and it may well be that the imposition of plastic was actually a good thing. But, we don’t know, because none of these lying bastards ever do their math or show their work…

    The more I see of the world, and the way it actually works? I think that the average person has every right to walk the petition-bearing segment of the population out into the forest, have them dig an ecologically sound fertilization hole into the ground, and allow them to fulfill their role in the carbon cycle. “Doing good” ought to be a prima facie evidence for lethal intent on their part, and should be actionable under the self-defense laws. God knows how many humans these creatures have killed over the years–Add them all up, and it’s probably more than the Anopheles mosquito and Yellow Fever.

  10. Kirk — Hear! Hear! If we think about the number of African children who have died unnecessarily in the last ~40 years because of the unjustified banning of DDT, the Do-Gooders are probably approaching Mao/Stalin killing levels. No matter how good their intentions, they definitely have Blood On Their Hands.

    The late Michael Crichton had an interesting idea — subject any “science” which is proposed as the basis for public policy to a good old-fashioned public adversarial trial, with the anti- side given equal funding & resources to the pro- side. It is a fair bet that most of the public-interest “science” would not withstand serious scientific scrutiny. See, for example, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.

  11. It’s not just the atheists – have you been following the Pope’s pronouncements on his pilgrimage through Africa? “How dare these little black people try to better themselves by using their natural resources” just about sums it up. Good grief!

  12. “The trouble is, despite environmentalists’ claims to be believers in “science”, what we’re dealing with here are religious fanatics.”

    Correct. The other important thing to remember is that the fanatics are dedicated to impacting other people’s lives, not their own. By towing the line, they are immune from having to change behavior.

    Hence, Harry and Megan get to be the lords flying over us all in private jets. I think there was a name for this political system….

  13. Matt – if “less plastic” is the sole criteria, than yes. But at what cost? If we banned all plastic, we’d experience an even bigger “success”.

    Kirk – disposable plastic bags are better than paper, surely? They hold more weight pound-for-pound, they don’t become useless when wet, soft mushy dog turd doesn’t leak through onto your hand… there’s probably more but that last one is a big plus, I tell ya

  14. Matt, To quote from the paper:
    “If carbon footprint was the only metric of environmental success, the results in this paper suggest DCB (disposable carry-out bags) policies are having an adverse effect. However, if the unmeasured benefits with respect to marine debris, toxicity, and wildlife are great enough, they could outweigh the greenhouse gas costs.”

    Which seems to suggest that if the motive for the regulation was both GHG and plastic in the environment then there maybe an overall benefit but

    “While the upstream relationship between plastic production and carbon footprint is well understood, the downstream relationship between plastic litter and marine ecosystems is less established, making it challenging to evaluate the environmental success of DCB policies. However, it is clear that ignoring leakage overstates the regulation’s welfare gains.”

    If it is, its luck not judgement.

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