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D.C.’s Boggling Bag Tax

This week, the District of Columbia began charging shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag. Consumers and grocery-store clerks are in for a headache.

A nickel might not seem like much. But anyone who has lived recently in Hong Kong and experienced their 6-cent bag tax knows how burdensome that levy makes commerce. There, grocery-store clerks must cram as much as possible into a single, side-split reusable bag – or face a perturbed customer. (Never underestimate the public’s desire to save a buck.) Milk, butter, and eggs become Tetris blocks; and consequently, the checkout lines grow longer and longer as clerks painstakingly pack for maximum space efficiency.

But that is not all. Customers once re-used their grocery bags to dispose of trash; now, in Hong Kong, they buy trash bags. This suggests the tax is not effective in reducing bag consumption; it certainly doesn’t encourage conservation of resources. But it does, evidently, cause delay and hassle for everyone.

The nice thing about living in Washington is that voters choose all of their city-council members, unlike Hong Kongers. Next time they’re voting, the harried shoppers of D.C. might remember this lesson in the unintended consequences of government meddling.


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