Drudge links to this story about San Francisco’s attempt to ban all but environmentally friendly grocery sacks. I.e., petroleum-based sacks are out.
I have no problem with environmentally friendly products or technologies, but when governments get involved in picking technologies, for environmental or other reasons, we all lose in the long run. That’s because bureaucracies aren’t as nimble as markets and don’t change quickly enough to prevent distortions in individual and business purchases, thus locking-in non-optimal technologies for years. As well as being slow to adapt, bureaucracies are also subject to political influence by businesses with the most at stake–thus, their decisions might not be as altruistic they may seem at first glance.
I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, but we’re talking about grocery sacks, in one freakin city!” I agree that one city is unlikely to have that much of a distorting effect, but often this sort of thing is the bellwether for statewide, nationwide or international action. Katherine Mangu-Ward, over at Reason, details how this sort of technology-picking is occuring in the household light bulb market here.
If grocery sacks and light bulbs don’t get you going, the solar power industry in the US is still struggling to get out from under years of federal subsidies and tax breaks. An article I read recently about solar power (I think it was in Wired magazine, but I can’t find it just now), details how federal subsidies in the 1970s encouraged individuals and industries to invest heavily in then state of the art technology. This had the perverse effect of locking-in that technology and discouraging research and investment in alternative technologies and, as a result, kept prices for solar power artificially high thereby delaying adoption in the broader power market.
Rather than having bureaucrats, who are generally immune from market pressures, making such decisions, markets in solar power, light bulbs and yes, even grocery sacks, ought to be allowed to evolve on their own w/o help or interference from government. To do otherwise could mean missing out on a better future.