COMMENTARY: Craziness on the loose in public affairs


Don’t just stand there, do something, the old saying goes, and, in this peculiar, modern age in which we live, that often turns out to be something that achieves nothing good while doing a lot that’s bad. Excuse me. I said it achieves nothing good, but there is the soothing feeling that radical environmentalists, extreme leftists and their dupes likely get, for instance, when they ban plastic straws.

It’s an absurdity that pretty much started out when a fourth-grader and his mom did a calculation of how many millions of plastic straws get used per day, and, yes, that’s the truth. Lots of people out there were rightly concerned about all the plastic that ends up polluting the ocean and they took this data as reason for a campaign to cut out the sucking. Some cities actually banned them and there were penalties to pay if you were uncaringly inattentive.

Researchers with more training than the fourth-grader, however, figured out that these straws only make up something like three one hundredths of 1 percent of plastics sneaking into the deep waters. That’s pretty much nothing, while the banning of the plastic straws created problems for some disabled people reliant on them. Producing paper straws, it has been argued, can create worse pollution through the use of more energy. And then there is the real culprit: Unsurprisingly, the biggest plastic threat to the ocean is plastic fishing gear.

A proffered answer to such grousing as mine is that the straw banning can be seen as a symbolic gesture alerting the public to an environmental hazard. What it really does is further sloppy thinking of a kind that leaves real problems out there growling while costly futility becomes the way of things. A foremost example has been the Obama administration’s requirements for improved auto gas mileage with a projected total hit on consumers of $500 billion.

The point has been to lessen global warming by lessening CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. But then you get to the numbers, or rather the lack of them. You get to zero, which is how much warming all of this would stop, meaning, of course, that politics were involved along with the thesis that if you get enough similar projects, you will do something meaningful. Obama’s whole Clean Power Plan would do nothing meaningful even by the century’s end, however, and meanwhile, there are other means of doing public harm besides climate change.

Someone especially talented at demonstrating as much is Sen. Bernie Sanders, forever figuring out means of undermining America and coming up with a doozy in his scheme of Medicare for all. A number of big-name Democrats think the plan nifty, and a third of the House’s Democrats are happily on board. Then we have Charles Blahous, a former Medicare and Social Security trustee, who did some arithmetic showing that the cost over a decade would be $32.6 trillion.

A trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you are talking about real disaster, and you are not going to get that much money just by making fat cats skinny. As Blahous tells us, the program would require a doubling of individual and corporate income tax revenue. By 2031, federal spending on health care alone would take a larger share of GDP than all federal spending takes today. National spending on health care might come down, Blahous says, but the federal government could struggle with coming down, too. And, it has been noted, low Medicare rates to hospitals are a problem. With no private insurance rates to compensate, they could strain the facilities to the point of closing down.

President Donald Trump is negating the emission tomfoolery, but the larger question is whether realistic rationality can do effective battle with misplaced idealism or the appeal of freebies that are not free. Among the standards we need to keep hold of are standards of thought.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at [email protected].