“What about the morons?”
“Ah. Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, and therefore cats bark. Or that all Athenians are mortal, and all the citizens of Piraeus are mortal, so all the citizens of Piraeus are Athenians.”
“Which they are.”
“Yes, but only accidentally. Morons will occasionally say something that’s right, but they say it for the wrong reason.”
That piece of dialog is from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. Earlier in the dialog between Belbo and Casaubon, Belbo claims that “there are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics” and that a normal person is “just a reasonable mix of these components, these four ideal types.”
I am persuaded that politicians in India are not normal people in the sense Belbo means it. They are an unreasonable mix of the ideal types, mostly moronic. What got me thinking about this was the ban on plastic bags that is scheduled to go into effect in Maharashtra next week.
Here is what happened. End of July saw not only unusually heavy rains – a cloudburst, actually – in Mumbai, but also record high tides. Mumbai, never having an efficient storm drainage system, succumbed to massive flooding and millions lost property and hundreds died as well.
Now comes the moronic reasoning. You see garbage everywhere in the streets in Mumbai. Garbage has plastic bags. Uncollected garbage lying in the streets can block drains during a storm. So ban the plastic bags around the state of Maharashtra to avoid flooding in the city of Mumbai.
If you will permit me a brief digression at this point. You may ask, why are we ruled by morons? Sweetheart, we are ruled by morons and cretins because the vast majority of us are morons and cretins. If we were not, it would not be possible for our elected leaders to be morons and cretins. In other words, we cannot be a population of enlightened beings and somehow end up with morons and cretins as the rulers. Conversely, an enlightened leadership cannot arise from a population largely consisting of cretins and morons. Leadership is endogenous to the population, especially in what is popularly called a “democracy.” George W. Bush, for instance, is a cretin and he rules because there is a majority in the US sufficiently moronic and cretinous to have elected him as their Dear Leader. Leaders are endogenous to the population and reflect the dominant traits of the population they govern. But then you may say, what about Clinton? He was not stupid. And a majority of pretty much the same population voted for Clinton in two elections! How did this happen? Well, my precious, just like individuals, populations change too. Sometimes the change is sufficient on the margin for the majority of the moronic to dictate the rulers and the rules.
Anyhow getting back to plastic bags and their bans by the morons that rule Maharashtra.
Banning plastic bags does not do away with the real problem. The problem is, first, there is too much garbage, and second that the garbage is not being properly disposed of. Indeed, the ban will cause a greater use of tetra packs which are more expensive and bulky and they will actually increase the volume of garbage produced. It will enrich the makers of tetra packs and I wonder if there is some sort of a kick-back deal between them and the ruling cretins.
I accept that the ruling cretins cannot understand the system they have the power to influence. But what I cannot understand is this: don’t they have intelligent advisors? Can’t they seek the counsel of people of normal intelligence? For instance, if I were asked, I would immediately propose an alternative to the idiotic banning of plastic bags.
The mechanism that I would recommend is simple. For every plastic bag manufactured, collect a disposal fee. Let’s say it is Re 0.10. This fee gets passed on to the consumers – the people who ultimately decide whether to accept a plastic bag at the store or to bring their own re-usable bag, the people who decide whether to chuck the plastic bags on the streets after use, etc. The next step is to have collection centers where for every plastic bag turned in, Re 0.08 is returned.
What happens if this method is used? First, the number of plastic bags used will go down. Simple econ 101: price goes up, quantity demanded goes down. This is good for the economy since plastic bags are made out costly petroleum.
Second, discarded plastic bags are a source of income for those who take the trouble to collect them and turn them in. From what I have seen in Mumbai, in a couple of hours, one can collect 500 of them and thus make Rs 40 by turning them in. My conjecture is that following this sort of scheme, you will not find a single plastic bag in the streets of Mumbai.
The benefits of this scheme: it is revenue neutral. What the state collects in fees, it pays out in collected plastic bags. The user is charged a little more and this charge goes to the people who make a living out of picking up the plastic trash from the streets. The scheme also reduces the use of plastic bags and encourages conservation by promoting re-usable bags.
Practically every problem we see around us admits a market solution. Get the incentives right and the market will figure out the most efficient way of solving the problem. On the other hand, banning is the strategy of the failed Nehruvian ideology of command and control. It will not work and will make matters worse. They will encourage corruption and bribery. The police will use the ban as a baton to beat the shopkeepers with to extract even more than they already do.
Sad really. It is all karma, neh?