Inadequate Government Solutions Are the Fault of the User

It’s a little bit old, and the town appears to have made some attempt to address the problem, but the saga of Tiverton’s town garbage bags is worth mention as a case study of government services.

Because the town’s leaders had for decades failed to prepare adequately for the day that the garbage dump would be filled, a crisis has increasingly loomed.  To their credit (although in a way that was not as taxpayer friendly as some would have liked… ahem), the members of the town council decided to take the unpopular step of requiring residents to purchase special garbage bags for any rubbish sent to the dump, whether dropped off in person or picked up at the curb.

The “pay as you throw” bags are $10 per pack, for ten 15-gallon bags or five 35-gallon bags.  The initial round of bags, apart from being more difficult to procure than promised, were absurdly flimsy for a household product many times the cost of what every convenience and grocery store provides.  Interviewed about the matter by Sakonnet Timeswriter Tom Killin Dalglish, Stephen Berlucchi, the director of the Department of Public Works (DPW), proceeded to instruct residents on the proper methodology for handling garbage bags:

“When we got the complaints, we looked into it,” he said. “We got a WasteZero representative to my office and we filled a bag up and pulled it out of a container.” …

“The bags are designed for 30 pounds. People are not supposed to fill them up,” Mr. Berlucchi said.  They’re not built for 60 pounds, he said.

“People should grab the bag at the drawstrings to pull them out of the container, not grab the bag itself,” he said. …

Mr. Berlucchi said he thinks some people “are holding the bag and pulling the strings horizontally, instead of letting the bag dangle. Or they’re pulling the strings away from each other.”

It appears that the sturdier bags that Berlucchi promised, back then, have replaced their inadequate predecessors on the shelves, but the example is perfect: Thus does the government presume to lecture residents about the proper handling of a product that they’ve used their entire lives — and that the free market supplies in astonishing variety and price.

In either case, the underlying objective is to make money, but in the marketplace, companies make money by luring consumers away from competitors.  In government, the supplier passes a law or ordinance mandating a purchase, and the only option available for consumer feedback is a revolt, of one form or another.

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