A CBC article about the City of Toronto banning bottled water and forcing retailers to charge 5 cents per plastic bag attracted this comment:

Let’s face it, taxes are how government prompts us to do things that are in our own best interests — tax cigarettes to discourage smoking, and tax alcohol to encourage moderation, etc… 5 cents is pretty cheap, but if it encourages folks to bring a bag along, then that’s great — job done, and no one gets any tax money. If some idiots believe it’s better to buy bags at the check-out rather than buy a box of biodegradable bags for a penny each, then let the morons pay their extra tax. We can use the funds to try remedial education about home economics, and then that same tax can given them a reason to prefer the choice that’s better for them long-term.

Unfortunately this seems to be the prevalent view in Canada; that people won’t do “the right thing” unless the government punishes us or forces us to.My doctor would tell you that a drink a day is good for you, but this person has decided that it must be taxed to force moderation. And if this person thinks that biodegradeable bags are available for a penny each then they haven’t walked through a grocery store in a few decades. “Biodegradeable” is clearly code for “expensive”.

Taxes were once created to fund common needs like wars or roads or other infrastructure – but they rarely seem to be used for that purpose today. Now they are apparently used to force people to change their social behaviour. For example, smokers and drinkers are punished heavily, though both are completely legal. And governments make arbitrary rules to limit comsumer choice. Bottled water is banned, though soda in plastic bottles is ok.

We’ve become the victims of some huge social experiment, where we are the ones who pay the price both financially, as well as with our freedoms. Of course the goals are always “right”, so we must be wrong.

Last week I was in Manhattan, and when shopping I typically received a paper, not plastic, bag. The bags were sturdy and held up well as I walked home with my purchases. This is almost never the case in Canada, where I typically receive a shoddy plastic bag that rips before I leave the store. Perhaps the answer is not to punish me for using plastic bags, but to provide me a good paper bag.

Stop trying to punish my behaviour with taxes; use them instead for what they were intended to do. And then give me better choices.