In Defense of Bag Fees

Atrios comes out against bag fees for air travel.

I have to say I’m not really very sympathetic to this sentiment, or with the current Southwest Airlines ad campaign slamming bag fees. If you figure an airline is going to believe it can acquire a given amount of revenue per passenger from a given route, the bag fee doesn’t actually alter this level, it simply redistributes it from those traveling with no checked bags to those traveling with multiple bags. Nobody is made worse off on average by this. But at the margin bag fees do encourage people to pack less stuff which reduces the weight of the plane and thus reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions. I wouldn’t want to argue that bag fees are the cornerstone of the new green economy, but it strikes me as a basic illustration of the point that a lot of customary social practices — from the absence of bag fees to poorly insulated office buildings — are ecologically destructive precisely because they’re economically wasteful. There’s some tension between environmental goals and growth goals, but also some elements of parallelism where in both cases it’s better to develop technologies and business practices that let us our capital and resources more efficiently