David R. Henderson  

California: Land of the Free

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I went on line a few days ago to order some vitamins. One of the items I ordered was Green Tea Complex. When I tried to place the order, I got a message in red saying that I couldn't order Green Tea Complex. So I deleted that item and the order went through. Today I went to the local GNC to buy the item I had bought many times before. It was on the shelf and so I picked up two. I told the salesman that I hadn't been able to order it on line. He explained that there is one Green Tea Complex for California and one for the other 49 states. I asked why. He said it was because the ones sold in the California have the Proposition 65 warning that the item contains ingredients that may cause cancer. (If I recall correctly, this Proposition, passed in 1986, was the first one I ever got to vote against, after I had become a U.S. citizen earlier that year.)

"Do you think the ingredients are any different?" I asked him. He answered that he didn't think so and that the only difference was probably the absence of the warning on the non-California bottle.

After he rang me up, I asked him for a bag for the two bottles I bought plus the one I had brought along (which still contained about 10 capsules). He said that he couldn't give me one because they can no longer legally use plastic bags--the city government of Monterey banned them effective July 1--and their paper bags had not arrived yet.

"Isn't it great to live in the land of the free?" I asked. "Yes," he said, "the People's Republic of Californiastan."

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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Scott G writes:

The paper bag legislation really bothers me when I shop at Whole Foods in San Jose, CA. The legislation requires that stores not give paper bags to their customers unless the customer is willing to pay 10 cents for each bag. If the customer doesn't want to pay for the bags, they can provide their own bags or go without.

I have since stopped shopping at grocery stores in San Jose. Too bad people of San Jose.

If I do find myself shopping in San Jose, then I turn down the offer to buy paper bags and ask the store employees to load the items into my cart without any bags. Makes for an uncomfortable situation.

I've not yet asked for help loading each item into my car, but I suppose that if I really wanted to protest, or a group of protesters wanted to protest they could all at once request help loading their grocery items into their cars, (each of which would be parked close to one another and possibly film the loading of the items into the cars, since filming is not allowed inside most grocery stores). A couple of cameras and a group of 10 protesters would probably do the trick.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Scott G,
I sympathize.
The problem I have with your protest is that you’re going after largely-innocent people who did little or nothing to cause the problem you’re protesting. Your form of protest is a private, non-coercive version of government-imposed sanctions: they purposely harm innocent people in order that those innocent people will somehow persuade their government to do what the sanction-imposing government wants done.

JL writes:

This fall Californians will vote on prop 37 on mandatory labeling of GMOs in food. Any chance they will have learned anything from the results of their past votes like the one David mentioned?

JL writes:

This fall Californians will vote on prop 37 on mandatory labeling of GMOs in food. Any chance they will have learned anything from the results of their past votes like the one David mentioned?

Scott G writes:

True. Maybe not the best approach to do a 10 person protest.

You don't have a problem with me deciding not to buy the bags and asking that my groceries be loaded into my cart without bags do you?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Scott G,
You don't have a problem with me deciding not to buy the bags and asking that my groceries be loaded into my cart without bags do you?
Thank you for asking, Scott. Actually, yes, I do have a problem with that. It’s obviously your right to do it, and so let’s get that issue off the table. What I think, though, is that it’s not right. You’re hassling innocent people to make a point. And, let’s face it, the odds that your doing so will change the law--which is your real upset--are indistinguishable from zero.
That’s why I do it my way. Start a conversation about what an absurd law it is. See if you can recruit the person to your viewpoint. Stop if you can’t. I do this in TSA lines. When there’s not a TSA person in sight and I catch the look of someone who looks frustrated by the TSA intrusions and hold-ups, I gently suggest that TSA is reducing our freedom for--nothing. Then I see where I get. If I get nowhere, I stop.

Scott G writes:

We might disagree on this one. I'll have to think it over. I think that your strategy is a good one for you, but you're a much better communicator than I am when it comes to these types of conversations. My way might be better suited to me. Maybe I can improve my communication skills though.

Bob Murphy writes:

Plastic bags won't do you any good if you get cancer!

Foobarista writes:

California is the ultimate example of why "think globally, act locally" is a silly idea. CA has an amazingly large number of these sorts of silly laws, which make it expensive to do business here and make it more expensive to live here.

If a law will actually "make a difference" in the local community, go ahead and do it, but laws that do nothing but "send a message" are stupid and ultimately cruel to those who lose jobs and pay higher prices so the "messengers" can wallow in a pleasant vat of self-righteousness.

Eric Evans writes:


"You’re hassling innocent people to make a point."

What makes you think it should be assumed that they are 'innocent'? Just because economic logic tells us that they should not be in favor of such legislation doesn't mean much, particularly in a world where people are bombarded with non-economic logic that is presented as economic logic.

The very reason that these types of legislation are so objectionable is that they impose undue costs on consumers and businesses. It is unfortunate that consumers will have to find a way to compensate for the imposed costs of the legislation, and the pain of the consumers' adjustments will be passed on to the businesses. But as you know, that's just the way it works; actions have unintended consequences. Does it really matter that one person passes on those costs screaming injustice from the rooftops while another does so in silence?

Ken B writes:

@Eric Evans
Surely persuasion in David'S way is a more effective way of hassling any actual miscreant voters without punishing the good and virtuous few?

Ted Levy writes:

David, are you surprised that San Jose grocery stores don't just "package" paper bags with various store items, much like I hear foie gras, now illegal for sale in California, is just being given away for free along with very expensive crackers?

If this is NOT happening, what is the economic reason for this obvious solution to consumer difficulties? Could it be that grocery stores are (part of) the special interests behind this legislation? If so, would you reassess your objections to Scott G's protest idea?

secular absolutist writes:

@Bob Murphy; Plastic bags won't do me any good if I have cancer?

Dude that is a non-sequitor.

My father in law had cancer. While he had cancer he had the benefit of plastic bags scores of times. They did him lot's of good. After he beat the cancer, he still utilized plastic bags. Despite this long term use of plastic bags the cancer never returned.

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