Jul 142009
Authors: Seth Anthony

The Great Sofa Roundup is, or was, a simple, low-budget program that helped hundreds of students and renters find essentially free furniture, and, over the years, saved countless sofas from being dumped into the ever-growing county landfill.

You could bring your old couch to a CSU parking lot, or pick up an old couch that someone else didn’t want anymore. Saving money and saving the planet — what could be better?

However, unlike the past eight years, this August won’t see hundreds of couches congregate in a CSU parking lot, looking for a home. The Great Sofa Roundup wasn’t cancelled, but was “temporarily suspended” due to concerns about bedbugs./

Bedbugs have been presented as a low-level concern for the past decade or more, and there’s been no sudden upticks of bedbug infestations in the city or state to cause alarm.

Apparently, the folks at CSU and Fort Collins’s Neighborhood Services departments decided that, despite the fact that bedbugs aren’t an appreciably greater risk this year than they have been the past eight years, this year, we suddenly couldn’t be trusted to handle the low risk of bedbugs. The old motto “caveat emptor” — “Let the buyer beware” — apparently wasn’t sufficient anymore./

People didn’t go to the Great Sofa Roundup unaware of the risks. With any piece of used furniture, you can never be totally sure what you were getting yourself into — who or what had slept on it, what had been spilled or sprayed on it.

The risk of bedbugs or other, even more disturbing infestations was always there, and if you wanted to avoid it, you could buy a new couch or get one from a friend whose cleanliness you trust, although you’d probably pay more for it. Lots of people measure the risks for themselves and make that choice.

By cancelling the Great Sofa Roundup, Fort Collins and CSU are attempting to protect us from ourselves. Never mind that it’ll be harder to find cheap sofas in Fort Collins this August. Never mind that dozens more sofas will be left by dumpsters and taken to the landfill — so long as nobody has to face the minimal risk of bedbugs.

Never mind that this will mean more people will pull their free sofas from beside dumpsters, where they’ve been sitting beside unsanitary bins of trash and have had raccoons or rats running over them. At least they can’t blame the city.

When the government tries to protect us from ourselves, the consequences are often bizarre. Our local utilities are frequent offenders. The advice plastered all over my monthly Fort Collins utilities bill tells me to take shorter showers, turn off lights when I leave the room and set the thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter.

It saves me money, so I don’t mind, but the water and power utilities need that money to keep operating. If we all follow their advice, our rates will have to go up./

Operating at odds with itself is a longstanding tradition at all levels of government. For decades, our federal government has been sponsoring anti-smoking campaigns while at the same time subsidizing tobacco farmers.

This tendency is one of the things that frightens me about the idea of a government-run health care system. When the government’s goals are both to provide the best health care and to spend taxpayers’ money efficiently, what health care services are going to be denied in the name of fiscal efficiency?/

When government assumes the role of providing services and of protecting the public, it assumes two roles that are inherently contradictory.

Abraham Lincoln reminded us, in much graver circumstances, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The cancellation of the Great Sofa Roundup is just a reminder that government can’t effectively function as protector and provider at the same time. Fortunately, the only victims this year were our sofas.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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