The shopping cart test of self-governance

Gareth was the first person to bring this idea to the attention of the rest of us here at The Price of Liberty. Readers should consider it – fun and with at least some utility.

The shopping cart assessment (SCA) is an attempt to help figure out what individuals are able to govern themselves and do not need involuntary control by government(s). In other words, people who are really adults: who take responsibility for their own actions AND the consequences of those actions. (And work to make those consequences be good ones.)

To put it another way, are they a person who insists that they must have a law (and the force behind that law) to make them do the right thing?

What is the SCA? Simply, at a store: do you return the shopping cart you used to a cart corral or to the store cart area? Or do you leave it outside, in a walking area or empty stall, or – worse, push it off somewhere in the distance? Some people claim it is the ultimate litmus test for those who call ourselves self-governors. Others claim it can help us identify who is a decent member of society. (And others believe it is yet another reason “there oughta be a law.”)

It is simple and can be done in virtually every city and town in the Fifty States with more than a couple of thousand people. All you need is a supermarket or grocery store or dollar store with a paved parking lot and shopping carts. (FYI, it won’t work at an Aldi because you put a deposit on their carts to use them and get it back. Or maybe I should say it won’t work as well.)

There are sometimes it will give a false value of “N” (No) for a few reasons: some severely and physically handicapped people and sometimes when someone has an emergency phone call or an incident that disrupts their normal routine.

Returning a shopping cart is an easy, convenient task (for 99% of us) and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do.

To return the cart is objectively right. There is no religious or political argument over doing so. There are no situations (other than dire emergencies or physical handicaps, generally easily decerned) in which a person is unable to return their cart.

But at the same time, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart.

So the shopping cart presents itself as the peak example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it. No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart: no fines, no jail, no notices of violation for not returning the shopping cart. (You might get some nasty looks, of course.)

But in real terms, you gain nothing by returning the shopping cart. You are doing so out of the goodness of your own heart. You return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct. Yes, even for people who have OCD.

To many people, a person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal. Either they are an absolute savage who will only do the right thing by being threatened. Or they are so arrogant and unthinking that they leave it to “menials” (the cart tenders) to do it.

So tell us, is it true that a Shopping Cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society?

One person’s ideas of a shopping cart assessment!

PS: If someone DOES say, “there oughta be a law” and not just saying so in a teasing manner, what does that make them?

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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14 Responses to The shopping cart test of self-governance

  1. pigpen51 says:

    I have always returned my cart to either the cart corral, or to the inside of the store. I do so because I don’t want to make extra work for others to have to do.
    I recall working in my foundry job, and tipping over a barrel of scrap metal. I had to pick it up, of course. It might have been golf club heads, or drill bits, or tail fins from the Sidewinder missiles. But as I picked the scrap back up and put it into the 55 gal. drum, 3 of my coworkers stood there watching and laughing at me. I could not even imagine doing something like that. One of the watchers was a member of the church that I attended at the time, while another one later became a foreman in the shop.
    It is just unimaginable to me that anyone could do such a thing, and the same thing goes for a shopping cart. There are a few times when I don’t return my cart to the proper place, but that is only when I am experience a migraine, which I am retired on disability for, and they are so debilitating that I can hardly function, and it is lucky that I am able to go into the store in the first place, and would not go if it was not needed. My wife has bad knees and has a hard time driving and so I try and do most of the errands when I can. And if I can park close enough to the store, I will bring my cart back, even if suffering from a bad migraine. And for those who don’t understand it, a migraine is not just a headache.


  2. “To return the cart is objectively right.”

    It might be right. But it’s not necessarily, let alone “objectively,” right.


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Tom, we agree. As I explained to BobF, we are presenting this idea, not necessarily (to use your word) endorsing it. I am not quite sure why or when it would anything other than right to return the cart, however? Did you have some specific situation in mind?


      • “I am not quite sure why or when it would anything other than right to return the cart, however? Did you have some specific situation in mind?”

        Several, actually.

        On the negative side, there’s one store we shop at which makes it a real pain in the ass to return the carts. Only two cart cages, on opposite ends of a large lot, such that if you’re parked in the middle of the lot it’s a good hundred yards as the crow flies (and you can’t get there as the crow flies you have to go around several rows of cars). Having 40 or 50 carts scattered around their lot all the time might be a market signal to them (put in another cage or two, or move the outer ones nearer the center). Or maybe they consider it a feature — people park, grab one of the scattered carts on the way in, meaning fewer paid trips by some peon to round up carts from the cages and bring them in. Because they certainly aren’t sending the peon out after the scattered carts.

        On the positive side, whenever we’re loading groceries from a cart into our car at any store, I look around for someone pulling in, and if there’s someone doing so close to us, I ask them if they need a cart. The store gets its cart used instead of left idle, the incoming customer doesn’t have to worry about getting inside and finding no carts available, and I don’t have to walk the thing to a cage or back inside. Everybody wins.


      • TPOL Nathan says:

        Thanks, Tom. Good points. I guess I would consider it as an equivalent to offer the cart to someone else to use – especially someone like Bob (or us) who can use the cart to make the walk easier. Especially if the store is crowded and carts are short.
        As for the store that makes it difficult to return carts, I assume they must have really good prices or really good products to make people willing to put up with that – or like you say, they just don’t care. And I am tempted to say that they had a poor engineer and/or architect that designed their lot that way. And the management is short-sighted: often scattered carts like that mean more of them tend to “wander” and disappear. More costly to send out an employee in a pickup to patrol the neighborhood to find ’em.
        Would you say it still makes it right (if a royal pain) to get the cart to the corral or the store, but not as “wrong” or “irresponsible” to not return them?


      • Nathan,

        The store in question is actually quite good — but yes, their parking lot resembles a remark my wife and I share with each other about such lots: “Someone taught spiders to smoke crack and then hired them to design this lot.”

        IIRC, this particular store has those special shopping carts with wheels that lock up if they’re taken more than a certain distance from the store. Unsurprising, as our particular area has a LOT of shopping carts (down here we call them “buggies” for some reason) sitting around where someone decided to use them to transport something several blocks then abandoned them.

        But yes, I agree that IN GENERAL it’s good to return the carts to the cages, or to the in-store cart area, or hand them over to someone who’s going that way and needs a cart anyway. I see some people parked right next to cart cages just load their junk, give the cart a push, and drive off. It’s reasonable to assume they’re not people I’d want to trust with something that requires caring about not needlessly inconveniencing others.


      • TPOL Nathan says:

        I will remember that expression next time I have to do battle with some city or county planning department or department of transportation “engineer” (in name only) over their design requirements. Wonderful!
        King Soopers and City Market stores (Kroger chain) in the Rocky Mountains claim to have such carts, for much the same reason: we’ve seen carts from some of their stores up to a mile away from any of their locations. However, Gareth and I checked out a few of their carts with the warning about wheels locking, about a year or so ago, when the tags showed up. We could find no mechanism at all that really WOULD lock up the wheels – it appeared to be sheer window dressing: they may have a few with the mechanism and figure they can buffalo the cart-crooks.
        Krogers, by the way, is the chain currently being struck by at least one of their unions and responding by offering home delivery for $1 to let people avoid the picket lines. Fun times.


      • Nathan, I didn’t even KNOW about those supposed devices until I was shopping at a store that had set whatever regulation mechanism they use too tightly and the cart’s wheels locked up halfway to my car. I wouldn’t be surprised if some stores just fake it, though. At my old house, I put a fake video camera out front after a series of burglaries and car break-ins, and the nonsense stopped. Sometimes just making them THINK you’ve taken measures is enough to send them looking for softer/safer targets.


      • TPOL Nathan says:

        Tom, I think that somebody did a fairly detailed study on the use of fake cameras for surveillance. Thanks for reminding me of that. I think you are right – some stores will do it all (I can think of two Safeways in San Francisco that would be likely to do that), others might fake it all, and some might only choose to do a limited number: 1 in 10 or 1 in 5 or something.


  3. Slave Larry says:

    PS: If someone DOES say, “there oughta be a law” and not just saying so in a teasing manner, what does that make them?
    “A victim of government education”


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Great point – but sadly not the only way people get to have that attitude. Mrs. Grundy (or Karen, in more modern slang) and nannie-staters in general do not always need “educating” to get to be that way, do they? GRTF “education” just produces (and provides jobs for) a lot of that type of person.


    • Steve says:

      This, unfortunately, is also why the Shopping Cart is not a good test of ability to self-govern — as with masks anymore, way too many people have been conditioned to do it. Without clearly explained “rules” and possibly even examples, the conditioning likely does not extrapolate well in a situation where they cannot see the similarity. For example, women’s clothing racks in stores are a disgrace. Rather than folding or hanging up something after trying it on, it gets tossed on top of a rack for someone else to fix. Men’s clothing racks don’t tend to get that way when you look at “real” men clothes. What you see tossed about tend to be things like salmon-colored polo shirts and soft pink “khakis” and distressed or torn or acid-washed jeans.

      While I don’t think it a good indicator of self-governance, it might give some insight into those who would do well in such a society. Whether they do the “right” thing because it’s the right thing to do, or whether they just unthinkingly go through the motions matters not — they will not cause too many problems.


  4. BobF says:

    Well, I use either a walker or a cane, and sometimes a scooter. On a really good day I bring my cart back INside and revel in the ability to do so; but those days are small in mumber. On non-scooter days I appreciate it when a previous handicapped parker left a basket nearby so I have that support into and out of the store. I’ve noticed lately tht my wife has begun a similar regimen, so rather than tie up two carts I tend to have us shop alone.

    I’d vote for a small cart corral adjacent to the handicapped parking spots. So if I’m an animal, so be it.

    And as long as you are going lay out numbers, tht 99% is pure b===. According to the CDC 26% of the population is handicapped, 13.7% of whom are mobility impaired.

    I used to enjoy this blog and had much respect. No longer as the reciprocal respect is sorely lacking.


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Dear Bob, Please believe us when we say that we sympathize with your physical ailments, in part because we share them. The “use the cart to aid us in walking” technique is one that we use frequently.
      But I am sorry that you feel we are apparently not showing “reciprocal respect” for you by not quoting the CDC data. Please allow me to explain.

      First off, who can trust ANY CDC data today? Whatever respect that cesspool of bureaucracy and false science had is long gone. If you have no respect for us because we do not slavishly report whatever the CDC claims, we take that as a badge of honor. And we are not saying that there are not many physically handicapped people who return their carts – whether to the store or to a cart corral.

      Secondly, I (Nathan) am part of that percentage (whatever the real number is) who are “mobility impaired.” I have been for nearly 40 years, due to significant foot and leg injuries in Germany. For several years I was limited to a wheel chair and then a walker, and for more years, forced to use a cane or walking stick. And like you, when pain was severe, a motorized shopping cart. Nevertheless, I have always tried hard to carry out my civic duties (as well as my military ones), as it appears that you do. (By the way, most of the supermarkets and even smaller stores that we patronize (over a six-state area) DO have cart corrals near the handicapped spaces. It is a great idea.)

      Third, I ask you to please go back and read the commentary – especially the last two paragraphs:
      “To many people, a person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal. Either they are an absolute savage who will only do the right thing by being threatened. Or they are so arrogant and unthinking that they leave it to “menials” (the cart tenders) to do it.
      “So tell us, is it true that a Shopping Cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society?”

      We at TPOL did not ENDORSE this test -or people who call those who fail the test “animals” – and indeed asked our readers to give us feedback: we tried to show that by referring several times to what people think and cerise about this “litmus test.”
      And we DO thank you for providing the feedback that you do not agree with it – even though we do not appreciate your foul language in doing so. We DO want to hear when people disagree with something – even when we do NOT specifically ask for feedback as we did this time.
      But we do ask you to forgive us for so upsetting you that you think we are not showing you or others respect. We always try to show respect – even (if not as much as we probably should) those who deserve very little: like many (most?) politicians and bureaucrats. And ask you to reconsider your harsh words.
      At the same time, we DO find a bit of joy in the fact that you have enjoyed this webzine and had respect for the work we’ve done. And hope that you might consider us worthy of your respect in the future.


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