Uninformed Tyrants



It used to be that the purpose of local government was to run schools and provide safe neighborhoods through police, fire, and ambulance services. If you lived in a more densely populated area, you might also get some city parks and libraries. These days, however, every city seems infected with closet Marxists that want to micromanage our everyday lives… and it always seems to result in less freedom.

We’ve been warned for decades. In 1848, Alexis De Tocqueville wrote “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

But things are different in our “modern” society, we’re told. Things are more complicated now, so we can’t rely on individuals to do the right thing. That’s a dangerous line of thinking. It sounds a lot like Benito Mussolini: “We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become.” That didn’t turn out so well for Italians.

In 1956, Friedrich von Hayek warned that the problem with centralizing more and more economic planning to the government is that it “creates a situation in which it is necessary for us to agree on a much larger number of topics than we have been used to.” This causes decisions to be “taken out of politics” and “placed in the hands of experts−permanent officials or independent autonomous bodies.”

Hayek was mainly talking about national government, and he was right−consider all the authority Congress has delegated to the executive bureaucracy since then. In Gainesville, however, our “experts” are the self-appointed saviors on the city commission, none of whom have degrees in chemistry, climatology, ecology, or environmental science, but they KNOW that plastic “is going to kill us,” so we need to ban plastic bags and plastic straws. (They didn’t produce any data on the number of people killed by plastic this year, or last year, or the year before that.)

When the city commission was discussing the ban on August 15th, Commissioner Ward said, “If you can solve it in California… you can solve it in Gainesville.” Solve it in California?! The Washington Examiner mocked Mayor London Breed because of “the abundant fecal matter and used needles that now litter San Francisco’s streets.” The city has doubled the street cleaning budget over five years, and the problem is getting worse. That’s the model for Commissioner Ward? 

Despite all their expertise on the environment, the commissioners don’t know how to do a simple Google search to learn that biodegradable plastics have been around for nearly a century. In less than two minutes of searching, you can learn that Cola-Cola partnered with Wisconsin-based Virent and has been using plant-based plastics (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) in bottles since 2009, and they plan to have 100% PET bottles by 2020. Walmart sells plant-based compostable plastic straws from two different brands: World Centric and Repurpose. PET can be biodegradable (under certain conditions), but it’s more valuable when recycled. Since 1999, Mohawk has been producing 100% post-consumer recycled PET fiber for carpets. PET can even be incinerated in biomass plants; it has no sulfur and has the energy content of soft coal. 

Rather than acknowledging how free markets are already dealing with the problem of plastics in the waste stream, the tyrants on the city commission default to the simplest solution: ban all plastic bags and straws. They can’t even define the problem. Some lament plastic in the ocean, which has nothing to do with the plastic used in Gainesville. Commissioner Ward complained about litter, but rather than talking about laws against littering or addressing the culprits directly, he wants to restrict the freedoms of all Gainesville residents. Using that logic, we can eliminate all pedestrian deaths by prohibiting people from walking outside or by outlawing all vehicles. It sounds absurd because it is absurd.

The plastic bag (now repealed) and straw bans might seem like little things, but if the city can tell you how to drink your beverages (or try to ban plastic bags against state law), imagine what they’ll try to do next.

Hayek warned that the “most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people. This is necessarily a slow affair, a process which extends not over a few years but perhaps over one or two generations.” Little by little, leftists have been expanding government power at all levels so that citizens who used to be sovereign individuals are now unable to perform a single action without some type of government restriction. Worse, we’ve become accustomed to it.

Hayek also warned that without freedom in our economic affairs, personal and political freedom will not exist. If you doubt that insight, watch a city commission meeting and ask yourself whether they sound like they want to preserve your freedoms or control your life.

Photo credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker, Creative Commons license

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  • It’s become too popular to confuse political agendas with “knowledge”. While agendas are full of self-righteousness, knowledge is powered by self-skepticism.

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