A new report examining the effectiveness of Austin’s plastic bag ban—it’s failed to meet expectations, it’s losing public support, and it’s costing businesses big-time—contains this rather stunning admission:

“The most direct way to address and change the pre-existing norms is to craft legislation which is designed to alter the behavior of the citizen. Such was the case with the bag reduction ordinance passed in Austin. While some may view governmental involvement an imposition of unwanted control, it is often the case that heavier handed intervention techniques in the form of legislation mandating change become needed. And in this scenario, the more intense efforts will produce larger gains in terms of a social behavioral adaptation.” [emphasis added]

It’s no secret that the City of Austin has generally favored big government policies, but the Austin Recovery Resource Department’s claim that “heavier handed intervention techniques” are appropriate to “mandat[e] change” to force “social behavioral adaptation” is a startling revelation that raises serious questions, such as:

  • How is it appropriate for the city to engage in social engineering to “alter the behavior of the citizen”?
  • What objective criteria, such as improved public safety, cost-benefit, or the like, is used to determine the types of policies that should be imposed on an unwilling public? Or is this type of local tyranny based on whatever is in vogue?
  • Is Austin’s plastic bag ban more about protecting the environment or exercising control over the population?
  • Does the city’s overarching philosophy change in light of the fact that ordinances prohibiting or restricting the use of single-use plastic bags are likely violating existing state law?

On a broader level, this type of thinking from the city of Austin is emblematic of a much larger problem in Texas: liberty is frequently under threat, especially at the local level. One need only look around at the local landscape to see evidence of local governments run amok, from nanny state ordinances prohibiting plastic bags to sky-high property taxes to soaring local debt to involuntary annexation to a whole host of other bad policies carried out in the name of “local control.” There’s a lot of work to be done to combat progressive ideology that seeks shape behavior towards its own ends at the local level.