Politics and Plastic Bags
It boggles my mind how a candidate for City Council in Texas’ capital city can focus so much of his campaign platform on plastic bags. Yes, plastic bags. Of the five key things Jay Wiley hopes to accomplish in office, he wants District 6 to be known for repealing the ban on single-use plastic bags that took effect over a year ago. I figure there are so many bigger issues we could be focused on, like ensuring access to basic services (housing, jobs, education, transportation, healthcare, etc.) for our community’s most underserved residents but, sadly, Jay doesn’t quite see it that way. In fact, Wiley disguises the plastic bag ban under the category of “boutique issues,” and then immediately blames our current Council with “ignoring core city issues and taxpayers’ concerns for far too long.” Does anyone else see the irony here?
In his February blog post titled, “It’s Not About the Bag,” Wiley sees the bag ban as a gateway drug of sorts, one that will eventually cause the local government to regulate other more important things like soda (I kid you not!). He even implies that Austin is becoming prohibitively expensive because of public policies like the bag ban.
Before I go on, I’ll admit I get where he’s trying to come from. A good majority of Americans are cynical about the role of government—whether federal, state or local. It can seem that government is getting too big, stepping into roles it was never meant to occupy, taking on debts it has no business racking up. But one of the fundamental things Jay Wiley (and others) seem to ignore about the private sector is that it often fails.
Companies fail at doing all sorts of things that promote the health, safety and welfare of our residents. They fail at building housing that service-sector employees can afford. They fail at ensuring our foods aren’t filled with unnecessary preservatives and chemicals that have been banned in other developed nations. They fail at mitigating the environmental damage caused by industrial waste and sprawling development to our natural resources. They fail at building infrastructure that serves everyone from the wealthy childless couple to the wheelchair-bound grandmother whose fixed income no longer affords her the “freedom” of a car. And they fail at helping us kick our addiction to disposable goods—whether that be Styrofoam packaging, small electronics, and, yes, even single-use plastic bags.
Thus, the government steps in and becomes the bad guy, requiring us to do the sorts of things we have refused to do for ourselves. So now, we battle over plastic bags.
I do agree with one thing he says on his website, though: “the result of…bad policy is clear in every tax bill, energy bill, and the traffic we endure every day.” Those policies that encourage the development of sprawling suburbs like Wiley’s District 6 are what contribute to the very things he laments—and the market failures I mentioned above. Plastic bags are merely collateral damage.