Thursday, June 21, 2012

It is NOT the People's Fault for the Plastic Bag Ban in Toronto

It is NOT the People's Fault

Ah, the blame game.  Who is to blame for the recent plastic bag ban in Toronto?  According to the National Post article by Terence Corcoran, the list of possible suspects worthy of condemnation is rather long. 

Maybe the science-be-damned environmentalists are out to get the evil plastic industry. 

Or maybe opportunistic small-time but power-hungry municipal politicians are pouncing on the chance "to make their mark."  How such slander that besmirches the reputation of our normally "altruistic" politicians could be published in a reputable newspaper is beyond me. 

Or maybe these same municipal politicians are simply "dumb" city councilors who place more value in the opinion of the Easter Bunny than in studies and research.  Why waste time and money on conducting objective research when one can simply appeal to the all-knowing wisdom of elected politicians.  The divine-right of the city councilor is, after all, a well established principle of political economy. 

Or maybe The Retail Council is a spineless jellyfish that is selling out the plastic industry due to its cowardice.  If only it had a backbone to stand up to these dumb and/or opportunistic city councilors, then something good might happen in Toronto. 

Or maybe the prime suspect is the people themselves.  As Mayor Rob Ford so eloquently put it, "it's the people's fault." 

The mayor laments the lack of citizen engagement in municipal politics.  "People are just sitting back and listening, but they don't pick up the phone, they don't go down to city hall, they don't ask questions," he says.

But the most obvious objection is simply this:  how can they, Mr. Mayor?  Doesn't the surprise nature of the vote make citizen "engagement" next to impossible?  When will the people get the chance to organize an effective opposition if the city council pulls surprise out-of-the-blue votes?  The city council is certainly not signaling much of an interest in encouraging further citizen participation.

Of course, the mayor's comments may be directed not so much at this particular incident with banning plastic bags as at a general apathy towards municipal politics.  The people have tuned out; they have abdicated their responsibility to keep these city councilors accountable.  The people have voted in terrible representation, and now they are doing nothing to correct their earlier electoral mistake. 

To begin, there is no such thing as "the people."  The mayor might as well blame Martians for the political problems in Toronto.  There is no collective blob called "the people"; there is no collective brain that does the thinking for the collective people; there are, however, many individuals living within the monopoly territory called the city of Toronto.  So the problem the mayor should be asking himself is, "why does an individual not care enough to be engaged in municipal politics?"

Maybe the reason why an individual just does not care is because he or she feels powerless to bring about effective change.  After all, the relationship between the city and an individual is an antagonistic.  A citizen may not even be a voter; clearly he or she has given no consent to any of these politicians, yet this citizen has no way to opt-out of the decisions that the city council imposes upon him or her.  The citizen is, in effect, living under the communistic principle of majority rule.  He or she, as an individual, has no power; the fictitious "will" of the majority must be obeyed. 

Maybe the citizen realizes that he or she has absolutely no way to financially control the behavior of his or her official representative, who may very well be a person the citizen did not vote for in the first place.  A government, by definition, cannot be held accountable by anyone because taxation is not voluntary.  The city does not send out friendly flyers with pixies and leprechauns on them in order to encourage the citizen to donate some love money to the city.  If the citizen doesn't pay then the city is not going to sit idly by; the city will enforce its taxation bill.

So far, the individual has no way to guarantee who his or her representative will be because the individual has this communist philosophy of majority rule imposed upon him or her.  Was the individual ever asked to sign up for such an arrangement?  Nope.  One must begin by doubting whether any of this is a true expression of individual consent, i.e., whether any of this "legitimizes" the government.  Moreover, the individual has no way to financially control the city's behavior.  This is because the city has effectively said to every individual:  you don't own your property.  Pay us your taxes or you will be in trouble big time.

So what does the mayor want an individual to do?  Call a politician on the phone.  Attend a meeting.  Ask a question.  Does the city call you politely on the phone and ask for a friendly donation of funds to pay for city's operations?  Does the city attend any public meetings or ask the people any questions?  According to Corcoran's article, the city couldn't be bothered to engage in a public review.  Instead, the city has the power to use force against you.  "Obey or die," said Trotsky.  "Obey or lose your property," says the city. 

This is not a fair fight.  This is a rigged game.  And the game is rigged against the individual.  That is the point. 

In fact, the game is so rigged that each politician has a vested interest in keeping things just the way they are now.  We will not see a parade of politicians swooping in to take advantage of this "opportunity" to increase individual participation in municipal politics.  There will be no crusade to get people excited about municipal politics as a result of this plastic bag ban.  It is against the individual self-interest of a politician to do so.  Isn't it easier to rule over people who passively submit than to rule over people who are monitoring your every move?

In conclusion, the mayor is wrong to blame the fictitious phantom he calls "the people" for the Toronto city council's decision to ban plastic bags.  What he is doing is that he is effectively blaming the victims for the crime.  Instead, he should be attacking a system without legitimate consent from all individuals, without any protection of private property, without any way for an individual to financially control politicians, and without any meaningful way for the individual to exercise his or her will.  The problem is ultimately that the city council can use coercion on its subjects and impose a non-voluntary outcome on them.  With such an imbalance of power, the people are not to blame.  The communistic rule by majority and voting are to blame. 

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