(Update: 5/30/19 The original version of this story contained a quote from Reason magazine, that Reason has since removed. MRCTV removed that particular quote as well, since it no longer appears in the piece MRCTV is referencing.)
There’s a term in economics called “Rent Seeking”.
We apply it when people try to gain not through market competition and customer preference – i.e., fair play – but through mercantilism, what Adam Smith criticized in 1776 as the attempt to gain through legislation, which always comes at the expense of consumers or competitors.
And in California, it appears that we can see a perfect example.
As Christian Britschgi reports for Reason, the California Assembly just passed a bill that surely will save the planet. And if you’re a business owner in the state, you’ll agree, comply, or else.
On Thursday the California Assembly passed a bill that would require customers to request a paper receipt before they can be given one… "Most of us don't need a physical receipt for every transaction. It doesn't make sense to kill so many trees and unnecessarily expose people to toxins for something we don't often need," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D–San Francisco), after its passage. The bill now moves to the state Senate.
And so business people wait on tenterhooks to find out if yet another set of politicians will impose their wills and increase costs.
Starting in 2022, AB 161 would forbid businesses from providing customers with a traditional paper receipt unless they ask for one. Beginning in 2024, businesses would also be required to provide digital proof of purchase should a customer so request… Cash-only businesses, health care providers, and retailers doing less than $2 million in business each year are exempted from the bill. Should you be caught printing up receipts in violation of the law, you'll get two warnings, after which you could be fined up to $300 a year.
Nothing like freedom, eh?
Something else economists discuss is the word used to describe the nominal ownership of a business that is run via mandates and controls from the state.
That’s called fascism. But few collectivists want to admit it, especially if their goal is believed to be noble, to “save the Earth” from deforestation.
Likewise, few collectivists want to admit that the United States landmass hosts more forestland today than it did 100 years ago.
And, to cap it off, few California collectivists appear interested in acknowledging that the “environmental advocacy group” on which AB 161 sponsor Ting relied to push the bill is headed by…
The CEO of an electronic sales receipt company.
The chairman of Green America's Board of Directors is Jeff Marcous. Marcous also serves as CEO of Dharma Merchant Services, which sells digital point-of-sale technology.
That's interesting, isn't it?
But, what of the argument that paper receipts not only eat a lot of trees, they create a lot of waste?
Britschgi does an excellent job breaking down the chameleonic numbers Green America has produced on the topic of paper receipt waste. But even if Green America were able to get its numbers straight, they don’t really mean much economically unless they are attached to a real disposal cost.
Which is the key problem, because most of the trash disposal of US – and especially that of California – cities is not based on real private property ownership, and, hence, not connected to real market calculations about the cost of environmental degradation.
As I have noted previously when discussing the problem of ocean pollution, most trash removal and disposal in CA is handled by governments, and, even when those governments mandate charges for residents to pay, those charges have absolutely no tie to real expenses, risks to the environment and to private property of others. Cities collect trash, then, often, dump the refuse into giant landfills owned by, or rented by, the government – or they dump the rubbish in the ocean. In all those cases, the government has little to no liability risk should its disposal of the trash harm the property of real people, and every cost along the chain is not market-based. No one can tell how much people value getting rid of their trash safely – or how much they value lower amounts of paper trash – because the people littering aren’t really connected to the costs of the trash disposal.
Ting and his supporters are, as one might expect, turning to state force to solve a problem created by the state. And it won’t solve the problem. It merely shifts another aspect of private business beneath the boot of the government, and could hand a big windfall to companies like Dharma.
As Britschgi notes, how about Ting and other politicians decrease the amount of garbage spewed out by the government? Fewer bills would really lighten the load.