ANDREW MCGILL – Why People Vote for Counterproductive Policies

Governing is often a cause-and-effect business. Give workers a tax break on retirement accounts? More people save for life after the working world. Offer a rebate for old cars? Drivers scrap their gas-guzzling Explorers in favor of sensible Corollas, and average fuel efficiency goes up.

It’s easy to sell something to voters when the costs and benefits are immediately obvious. But that’s not how most policies work. Many look downright terrible in the beginning—what, pay more taxes?—and deliver a payout only if people collectively change their future behavior. Take a carbon tax: Industry would pay more to produce energy, making stuff more expensive, but the price pressure might prompt an eventual shift to alternative fuels, which could deliver an overall benefit to society.

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