"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Unintended Consequences

The two words you need to repeat like a mantra every time a liberal proposes a policy are:

Unintended consequences.

The unintended consequences of Obamacare for instance -- a titanic policy change enacted largely because of demagoguery about the sad plight of the "uninsured" and people with "preexisting conditions" -- include the ironic outcome that, starting in 2014, healthy people have a huge economic incentive to remain uninsured, because they can never be denied for preexisting conditions whenever they get sick.   So bank your premiums while you can, Americans, stay healthy, put the cash in the bank, and then go get your insurance when you're sick.   Of course, that means the collapse of the private health insurance market, since insurance pools don't work if healthy people don't pay premiums for care they don't use to subsidize care for sick people.  

Here's another one:

San Francisco has been discouraging plastic bags since 2007, saying that it takes too much oil to make them and that used bags pollute waterways and kill marine animals. In 2012, it strengthened its law. Several West Coast cities, including Seattle and Los Angeles, have also adopted bans for environmental reasons. The government of Washington, D.C., imposes a 5 cent plastic-bag tax. (Advocates prefer to call it a “fee” because taxes are unpopular.) Environmental groups and celebrity activists, including Eva Longoria and Julia Louis- Dreyfus, support these laws.

The plastic-bag industry, predictably, wants to throw them away. It says that the making of plastic bags supplies a livelihood to 30,000 hard-working, law-abiding, patriotic Americans, many of whom have adorable children to support. It cites a 2007 report by San Francisco’s Environment Department that said plastic bags from retail establishments, the target of the ban, accounted for only 0.6 percent of litter.

Most alarmingly, the industry has highlighted news reports linking reusable shopping bags to the spread of disease. Like this one, from the Los Angeles Times last May: “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 in October, Oregon researchers reported Wednesday.”

Warning of disease may seem like an over-the-top scare tactic, but research suggests there’s more than anecdote behind this industry talking point. In a 2011 study, four researchers examined reusable bags in California and Arizona and found that 51 percent of them contained coliform bacteria. The problem appears to be the habits of the reusers. Seventy-five percent said they keep meat and vegetables in the same bag. When bags were stored in hot car trunks for two hours, the bacteria grew tenfold.

That study also found, happily, that washing the bags eliminated 99.9 percent of the bacteria. It undercut even that good news, though, by finding that 97 percent of people reported that they never wash their bags.
Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright, who are law professors at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University, respectively, have done a more recent study on the public-health impact of plastic-bag bans. They find that emergency-room admissions related to E. coli infections increased in San Francisco after the ban. (Nearby counties did not show this increase.) And this effect showed up as soon as the ban was implemented. (“There is a clear discontinuity at the time of adoption.”) The San Francisco ban was also associated with increases in salmonella and other bacterial infections. Similar effects were found in other California towns that adopted such laws.

Klick and Wright estimate that the San Francisco ban results in a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses, or 5.5 more of them each year. They then run through a cost-benefit analysis employing the same estimate of the value of a human life that the Environmental Protection Agency uses when evaluating regulations that are supposed to save lives. They conclude that the anti-plastic-bag policies can’t pass the test -- and that’s before counting the higher health-care costs they generate.
I've seen stories like this before, and they are persuasive.  I've advised the Regular Wife to use plastic bags.  

There's a reason why so much of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) deal with Jewish laws concerning food preparation and cleanliness.   Human beings have struggled to keep from being infected since they've become a civilization.   But environmentalists think they know better.   Or, they are willing to sacrifice human lives on the altar of their one true faith... in Gaia.   Unintended consequences be damned.

No comments:

Post a Comment