Environment

Bootleggers, Baptists and baggage: who benefits from plastic bag bans?

The State of Queensland recently instituted a ban on single-use plastic bags at retail outlets. Woolworths is a first mover in removing all plastic bags from its own shops. Unsurprisingly many Queenslanders are frustrated with this move, and yet few Queenslanders are surprised that the State government has done yet another stupid thing.

But why do things like this happen in the first place? Why do widely unpopular, stupid regulations seem to get through the political process that is meant to represent the populace at large?

The first thing that must be noted is that many of these regulations impose diffuse costs (a small cost on absolutely everyone) yet have concentrated benefits (a few big winners). This means that there is less incentive for individuals who have to bear the costs to lobby against such regulations, and more incentive for those few big winners to lobby for them.

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