November 7, 2008

"New York is a place where people are almost programmed to do things impulsively..."

"... because it is so easy to just hop into a bodega or a deli or a 99-cent store to buy anything, anytime, no forethought required."

From a NYT article about Mayor Bloomberg's plan to make stores collect a 6¢ tax for each plastic shopping bag given out. (In Ireland, it's 33¢ a bag!) Actually, it's not a tax, it's a fee. (Because if it were a tax, it would need approval from the state legislature.) The idea isn't to raise money but to train people -- those impulsive New York people -- to bring their own bags.

So anyway, do you think the structure of the city makes human beings more impulsive?

Retraining people with new taxes/fees is much easier than redesigning the physical environment to improve their emotional thinking. But it set me to wondering what would be the perfect environment for the most balanced and rational thought. The idea that convenience makes us impulsive... is that right? I'm not convinced that New York is so convenient, but I'd like to believe that the ability to fulfill our needs easily would save time and make us feel relaxed, which would improve our rationality. But no. That's probably not true.



Brian Doyle said...

I think Manhattan in particular makes me less impulsive, because there's the presumption that everything is more expensive than it would be elsewhere, so for convenience-store type items it makes more sense to hold off.

And I don't exactly object to this bag tax, I don't think, but are these really the kind of daring bipartisan solutions a Bloomberg presidency would have produced? Taxing undesirable stuff? Anyone could have come up with that.

Expat(ish) said...

Lovely, tax that hurts the poorest consumers. Yummy Democrat solution.

Wait, is Bloomburg a RINO still?

Never mind.


PS - In Oz most people bring their bags because they, as consumers, think this is smart to do. Stores do have plastic bags, but it is not a big issue there.

Darcy said...

I hate those freakin' plastic bags!
And I hate the idea of taxing people into submission. But it would get me to carry a bag for smaller purchases...isn't there a better way, though?

How can anybody stand Bloomberg? I'm asking that seriously.

Lem said...

I'd like to believe that the ability to fulfill our needs easily would save time and make us feel relaxed, which would improve our rationality. But no. That's probably not true.

What do all the warning labels everywhere mean if not the ease with which we get distracted, relaxed. . .

MadisonMan said...

I am already retrained. Canvas bags all the way.

The only problem is that plastic bags are great for cleaning up after a dog.

al said...

NYC and California are racing to see who can screw over poor people the most with taxes/fees.

RINOs at the helm in both places.

Edward said...

I am fine with it MadisonMan if you canvas haulers agree to one thing: in exchange for your self-rightousness over saving microns worth of plastic from the dump, you agree to carry all groceries with you bare hands if you forget the canvas bag. (Stuffing them in your pants is also acceptable).

Harwood said... set me to wondering what would be the perfect environment for the most balanced and rational thought.
A balanced and rational person might be a good start.

BJK said...

I have never once been able to use the word 'bodega' conversationally

...and I feel like I'm missing out on something. Such a fun word to say. I always assumed that it's just an archaic term, but if the Governor of New York is still dropping it on occasion, maybe it's just a regional thing.

Or maybe it's just that we don't have them in Wisconsin (unless you count Walgreens, in which case we have one every 5 blocks).

Amexpat said...

Here in Norway there is no tax on plastic bags, but all supermarkets charge for them. The cost is about 15 cents and the plastic is a bit more substantial than the ones you get in the US. I, like many people, use them as garbage bags, so they are not wasted.

No one here complains about it even though the stores have a huge markup on what they charge.

Fatmouse said...

I love those plastic bags!

1. Lunch bag.
2. Small garbage can liner.
3. Garbage sack for your car.
4. Dog poo plucker.
5. Protecting electronics/papers/etc. from the rain.
6. Garage sale sacking. (Especially this one! People were delighted when we could just hand them a bag to carry their junk around... and they wound up buying a lot more items.)

And a thousand other uses – best of all, they’re so cheap you don’t need to worry about damaging or losing them.

As for those damn canvas bags. NO. I already have a borderline psychotic hatred of those damned “customer loyalty cards.” More than once, I’ve passed by a store because their card (one of dozens) was mistakenly left at home. If a store chain decides to fine me for not schlepping a pile of bags around, I’ll be shopping elsewhere.

The idea that convenience makes us impulsive... is that right?

I’m constantly amazed by the number of my young urbanite coworkers who have no extra supplies in their apartments, especially food. Every night, they either eat out or pick something up at the store. As for materials for an actual disaster… well, they might have enough toilet paper to last a week.

Hmm, come to think of it, if you go shopping almost every single day, you’re more likely to haul around one of those damn eco-bags.

Surenna P. said...

I would trust Mayor Bloomberg's plan a lot more if instead of asking for a 6 cent tax/bag, he was for requiring stores to charge 6 cents per bag.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Yes, a big city does tend to make people more impulsive. Things and places are more convenient so planning ahead isn't that necessary.

Regarding shopping and plastic bags: In a rural/suburban setting you must plan well ahead for your shopping needs because a trip to the store can be a much bigger event and not a daily event that would lend itself to a canvas bag.

I go grocery shopping at a local store about twice a month and only again if I run out of milk or something. There is no way I can bring my own bags because my shopping haul consists of at least a dozen bags each time.

Like Fatmouse, I also find the bags very handy for many uses. If I start getting too many, the store has a recycle bin and I can bring them back.

Every other month we do a Costco run at a nearby town (1 1/2 hour drive away) for big supplies of food and other stuff. Enough to fill up the back of my SUV.

I'm also amazed, like Fatmouse said, at the lack of extra food or supplies in urban households. They are not going to be prepared for any disaster or hard times.

Fees are just a sneaky way for the government to grab more money from us without the legal votes required. Fees are also becoming a social engineering tool. Not good.

Kirk Parker said...

So all they have to do to institute a tax by fiat is not call it a tax? Sweet! All those medieval scholastics, counting angels dancing and all that, have got nothing on our modern legalists.

Anonymous said...
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holdfast said...

"How can anybody stand Bloomberg? I'm asking that seriously."

-Have you met Mark Green (i.e. the alternative)?

-Bloomy is now officially an independant, so no longer a RINO. He was previously a moderate Dem who became a Rep to run against the far left Green. Although I hate all this little nagging, Nurse Bloomberg stuff, it could be so much worse, which is why we tolerate him.

Anonymous said...

Impulsively? Like looking at Althouse every few hours. And I'm not even living in New York these days.

But I digress.

Germany uses these cloth bags that you own and bring with you and it works great.

Or you can buy plastic bags at the store for about 10 - 20 cents.

And the plastic bags are very sturdy and can be reused many times or for other things.

They aren't the thin ones we use that break on first lift.

So Bloomburg is on to something.

Earth Girl said...

Since I only shop in town every other week, I have fewer opportunities to make impulsive purchases AT STORES. I have opportunities to make impulsive purchases 24/7 on the internet.

I bring 3 of my own bags for groceries, but that doesn't make a dent into the groceries needed to feed a family which includes two teenage boys. This trend toward bringing your own bag works well for singles or couples who shop frequently, not for families who shop infrequently.

Woody said...

Let's make every bag have a thousand dollar tax on it. Then, lets make every shopper buy a bag. That will cut down on New Yorker's impulsive shopping big time. A lousy six cents is just a way to get a bit more tax revenue without changing anyone's habit in the least and it's so little that no one will complain.
If you want to cut back on impulse buying, move to Montana or someplace else where food moves until you put a stop to it.
As for me, I'll just continue to exercise a bit of self control.

ron st.amant said...

I've never lived in New York City, but I lived in San Francisco for a while and I think it has similar structural difficulties.
Because it is difficult to get around, you tend to make smaller purchases at the corner store since you don't want to lug twelve grocery bags home. So it isn't impulse buying, but it might appear that way.
It's similar in Toronto.

We have recently moved to the green bags, though I admit I often forget them when I head out- my wife does better at it.

6 cents a bag doesn't sound terribly many bags are you going to need anyway? if you use 20 it's a $1.20.

Shanna said...

My thought is that it's not about people being "impulsive" it's about them not having a car. When you drive to the store, you can bring bags in the trunk and have them at all times. When you have to walk out of the way to your house to pick them up, or carry them with you to work, well, that's more of a pain.

JAL said...

All the more reason to hold off on all that global warming legislation....

I remember when the plastic bags were introduced as a way to help the environment by decreasing the use of PAPER bags! (Remember? Paper came from TREES. Save a TREE! Use plastic bags! Of course paper bags were made from renewable resources, but hey ... that was not the mantra of the day...)

(I also remember when pladstic bags were substantial -- that was one of the 'selling' points.)

People in NY might demand a return to paper shopping bags. Rather than be fined for what the environmentalists pushed on us a couple decades ago ...

And as for the canvas bags ... not too bad an idea, but as with others, we do heavy shopping (ever watch people come out of Wal-Mart?)

Of course, Sams Clubs (Costco too?)HAVE NO bags ...

But then NYC has no carts outside the store and no parking either....

Life is not simple anymore, is it? One size does not fit all.

Woody said...

Shanna brought up an excellent point about transportation being a big factor in "impulse" purchasing. When I lived in Frankfurt, Germany and had no car, I bought smaller quantities of everything and shopped more often than I do now.
What appears to be impulse may just be the reality of how much can someone conveniently tote at one time.

Hunter McDaniel said...

Is there any aspect of our lives that people like Bloomberg will stay out of?

Richard Dolan said...

"The idea that convenience makes us impulsive... is that right?"

No, for most people it's not. The ready availability of goods and services in a big city just becomes part of the background of life, not its central object. It means that you don't have to plan detours or special trips to get soemthing when you're rushing to make an appointment. It means that you get presented with more choices, more things or activities that might engage your interest and attention.

In essence, it's the same phenonmenon as advertising -- the diversity and availability of goods and services in the City presents choices, and that in itself can (and is often designed to) stimulate demand. To describe the resulting demand as "impulsive" is to make a large (and pejorative) judgment about the response of consumers. Labelling people in that way seems to me to say more about those making that judgment than it does the consumers, even if in a not insignificant number of cases, the judgment won't be wrong.

Freeman Hunt said...

How about telling the government to STFU. Seriously.

Bureaucrats just can't help themselves, can they? There is nothing too small, too inconsequential to try to control. This impulse to control is a disgusting character flaw.

Palladian said...

"Bureaucrats just can't help themselves, can they? There is nothing too small, too inconsequential to try to control. This impulse to control is a disgusting character flaw"

A perfect summation of the repulsive wealthy prawn Bloomberg's tenure as Mayor of my city.

The only way I would pay for a plastic bag is if I subsequently got to tie it around Bloomberg's head while he was sleeping. That would be worth at least 6¢.

Palladian said...

Of course you'd need an awfully big bag to contain His Honor's fat head.

Eddie Jetson said...

This is such an entertaining article because it so perfectly captures the modern liberal world view: that people are (and should be) programmed.

The bodegas aren't creating the behavior, they're responding to it. New York supports impulsive behavior because people are impulsive, not the other way around. We're genetically hard-wired to conserve energy and the market is supporting that.

At the same time, we have Bloomberg interfering in a voluntary transaction between a store owner and their customer because he wants to re-program people to do what he thinks they should.

Nowhere does anyone seem to consider that people are acting, and more importantly, should be allowed to act, of their own free will for mutual benefit.

How beautifully symmetrical in thinking and how... illiberal.

Buford Gooch said...

Perhaps Thoreau had it right when he removed himself from all things convenient by going to Walden Pond. He did so in order to be able to think more clearly. The distractions of convenience make deep thought difficult. Sort of a manufactured ADD.

ricpic said...

It actually can be a terrible struggle just to get from point A to point B in New York.

Hysterical to me that in this time when the need to cut spending is paramount NYC is going to raise taxes another 15%. Statists never understand that the golden goose can be killed till they've killed it.

blogless said...

Mmm, I can understand wanting to do something about the environmental problems associated with plastic bags.

Would people here feel more comfortable with the tax if paper bags were still free, and if consumers were offered free reusable cloth bags? Then the plastic becomes someone's option - someone's choice.

If plastic bags are a problem - don't you think that there should be some effort to fix the problem? Where's the boundary between too much government, and good government?

KCFleming said...

"Where's the boundary between too much government, and good government?"

If you have to ask, you've already crossed the line.

blogless said...

"If you have to ask, you've already crossed the line."

No, but that seems to be the level of political dialogue in this country.

There is a middle ground.

Cedarford said...

Agree with DBQ - if you shop twice a month, no way is it worth accumulating all the cloth bags that each have about the same space as a plastic or old paper sack. I'd note that the "environmentally" conscious shoppers going out daily for groceries with their proud "anti-plastic bag" tote sacks burn more oil with the extra driving than they likely save. 500 plastic bags weigh - what? - one pound?

In our area we have two trash to energy plants that burn discarded plastic sacks along with other garbage (and we found they pick up most of the newspaper, cardboard, and other "recycled" no one wants to purchase from the taxpayer-funded Recycling Center to burn that as well)

I note that since Bloomberg and his ilk have jacked up fees and taxes on cigarettes to stratospheric levels, black market cigarettes - run by Hezbollah, Nigerian, Dominican, Jamaican gangs into the City have gone from under 10% of cigarettes sold to 2/3rds. With City revenues dropping like a rock as less "taxed" cigarettes are sold and New York officials angrily demanding more law enforcement against "violators" serving the 1.5 billion dollar black market in tobacco and 1 billion in higher-end liquor and wine smuggled in.
And "demanding" other states and Indian Reservations stop selling the stuff more cheaply than NYC does.

NYC residents have been burned and have learned from past revenue getting stings about NYC going after them for credit card purchases outside NYC that avoid local taxes. Now they use cash, money orders, debit cards shielded by middlemen cutouts or through foreign banks that say screw you to Bloomie and Spitzer (when he was AG)...For many, it is not the money, but for the sheer pleasure of defying the State Nannies.

Same in Cali, as a friend just got his two .40 cal Glocks from his brother in Georgia as a "family gift" to skirt onerous direct purchase laws. The "best part" was having the guns and knowing it was a legal way to say "screw you, California Government and anti-gun City officials".

Fatmouse said...

Perhaps Thoreau had it right when he removed himself from all things convenient by going to Walden Pond.

Heh, I almost brought up Walden in my other post, but it was already getting too long.

Spending any time in a hyper-dense urban location makes me uncomfortable. I think this is the normal case for the human condition - through countless generations over millions of years, homo sapiens have evolved to live in small, close-knit communities close to nature. Cram ten million of them on top of each other in an endless jungle of concrete and steel... well, it doesn't surprise me that New Yorkers are neurotic...

KCFleming said...
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KCFleming said...

"There is a middle ground."

Indeed there is. We passed it way back in the 1930s, it accelerated in the 1970s, and now we're going to finsih the race by letting the gummint decide what you eat, what you buy, how and when you shop, what bags you use to carry them in, and how many lights you can leave on in your house, and what type of bulb you can use.

It's all for your own good.

I repeat, the fact that you ask the question ("Where's the boundary between too much ...and good government?") reveals to me you are unaware how long ago the middle ground was passed.

You're way off to port, asking if we should stand even further leeward and thinking all along you're astride the keel.

CarmelaMotto said...

Paper bags require more energy to be made and I recently read an article (posted here?) about the re-usable bag fad and the down side (made in china, toxic chemicals or something).

I use tote bags I already have when I am walking/shopping (stronger).

I use the plastic bags for garbage bags and I recycle them too.

Bloomberg burns my butt. He is such a NANNY! And his BS about how we need him for a 3rd term and bypassed the voters (we voted twice for term limits) pisses me off especially since after 9/11 Guiliani offered to stay on (kind of co-Mayoring) for a longer transition and Bloomberg arrogantly waved him away.

As someone else said, Anthony Weiner, Mark Green (runs every time!) and that guy from the Bronx I who also runs every time - are worse.

Ann Althouse said...

"A perfect summation of the repulsive wealthy prawn Bloomberg's tenure as Mayor of my city."

Prawn? A large shrimp.

dick said...

Very fitting for Bloomie. Although I will admit that Anthony Weiner (my congressman (**spit**)), Mark Green and Ferrer from The Bronx are even worse. I wish Giuliani would run again. he was a good mayor and stayed out of most of the business of people. he did clean up the street people but that was a huge blessing. All you have to do is go to Times Square at night these days to see the huge difference that made. Before you saw all the theatre goers come out of the theatres and immediately jump into cabs and get out of the Times Square area. Now they stick around and schmooze and eat and enjoy themselves. Much nicer atmosphere for the natives and the tourists both and all due to Rudy.

blake said...

6 cents a bag doesn't sound terribly many bags are you going to need anyway? if you use 20 it's a $1.20.

Basically the flipside what Woody said: This is nothing but a tax grab.

If I buy a twelve-pack of soda, I pay about 1/3rd of the cost in taxes. No, wait, they're recycling fees.

blake said...


The ideal was passed a long time ago.

If not, the question we would ask ourselves when an issue came up is: "Should government be involved with this?"

Instead we ask "How should the government be involved with this?"

The answer to the first question--which should usually be "no"--is assumed to be "yes".

blake said...

Am I wrong, or did Thoreau not really live an isolated life at Walden?

Fatmouse said...

Am I wrong, or did Thoreau not really live an isolated life at Walden?

He lived on the edge of a small town which he visited often, and had a couple dozen other visitors over the years. But total isolation isn't normal for humans, any more than being surrounded by crowds.

Trooper York said...

Nanny Bloomberg is a corrupt and evil man. His recent usurpation of the democratic process that over turned term limits is just the tip of iceberg. His arrogance and hubris knows no bounds. There were members of the City Council who were strong armed to vote for his bill to change the term limits laws that were so beaten up that they wept as they cast their votes. Of course there is no one in the United States who could possibly serve as Mayor instead of this Boss Tweed with a fat checkbook. To say that Anthony Weiner would be worse is a sad mistake. I am personally a conservative and Weiner is very, very liberal, but his actions would be constrained by finding some kind of political consensus that Bloomberg totally ignores because he buys everybody off to the point that he can do anything he wants.

The issue of packaging is a legitimate one. The Merchants association that I am a part of has negotiated a deal that allows the members to buy inexpensive canvas totes in bulk and allows us to sell them to the consumer at a very reasonable price. I personally do not use plastic bags in my store, but rather beautiful paper shopping bags with our label attached. I do not need Nanny Bloomberg to tell me how to purchase bags.

My most fervent wish is that he rots in hell. I don’t think his checkbook will help him there.

Smilin' Jack said...

Converting oil into plastic bags which are then buried in landfills is a form of carbon sequestration, and is thus a very Green thing to do.

However, it doesn't satisfy the liberal need to compel others to accept the liberal worldview and modify their behavior accordingly. Thus, plastic bags will be taxed, and billions will be spent on other forms of carbon sequestration instead, all in order to bolster the liberal ego.

KCFleming said...

That insatiable urge to control, to exert power over another, to lord over, to direct, to coerce; it's a disease, a kind of hubris, a great sin.

Maybe the greatest sin.

It wears the mask of concern, of benevolence, of love. But it is the cardinal sign of a misanthrope. Not the loveable curmudgeon who wishes only to be left alone, but the dangerous misanthrope, who wants to destroy others.

He tends to think of other humans as mere blocks of wood to be moved this way or that for his pleasure. But he cannot be pleased, because it is existence that causes him so much discomfort.

In other circumstances we call these people sociopaths, because they murder the objects of their misanthropy. While their crimes are awful, they pale in comparison to the horrors the poltical sociopath can cause.

Bloomberg is one of these. His wreckage will be smaller than most, but the disorder and suffering and loss of liberty he causes is a crime against humanity. Worse still, he has the chutzpah to claim it is for your own good.

From these devils, these Satan's minions, we ask deliverance. But God is silent on this matter. We are left to fend for ourselves against the evil of those who wish to use us for their own purposes.

This is no mere 'bad government', but has crossed over into outright evil.