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Government Junkie Economics

Wednesday February 21st, 2018   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 1:09pm PST   •  

As we noted, California assemblyman Ian Calderon has proposed a bill that would make it illegal for restaurant staff to give customers a plastic straw unless they ask for one. Unrequested straws would draw a fine of $1,000 or even jail time. For all his zeal, the assemblyman seems to have ignored the tons of trash homeless “campers” leave in scenic areas such as the American River Parkway and in major cities such as San Francisco.

In a single week last March, the San Francisco Department of Public Works picked up 55,000 pounds of trash and close to 4,000 hypodermic needles. The plastic syringes pose health and safety hazards but that does not trouble legislators. In fact, the government spends money to distribute syringes. Such “needle exchanges” began during the AIDS epidemic and there are now some 200 across the USA, including 40 in California, with six in San Francisco County and five in Los Angeles, which hands out more than a million syringes per year. The federal government banned money for such programs in 1988, lifted the prohibition in 2009 and reinstated it in 2011. In 2016, the feds restored the funding as part of an omnibus spending package.

Government syringe handouts are intended to prevent disease but their promoters claim they save money as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a New York program in one year saved $1,300 to $3,000 “per client.” Likewise, “expanding access to clean syringes through an additional annual U.S. investment of $10 million” would result in 195 few HIV infections, “lifetime treatment cost savings of $75.8 million,” and “a return on investment of $7.58 for every $1 spent.” Taxpayers and economists alike might wonder about a windfall like that, but some realities remain clear.

Government spending is not “investment,” even if those in white lab coats say so. Whatever the public health benefits, the junkie “clients” discard the free syringes by the thousands. This poses health and safety risks, but unlike plastic straws, legislators do no seek to criminalize those who hand out the syringes.

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February 2018