January 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Nice post from Blad Plumer in TNR about the power of words in affecting public policy preferences:
Via Julia Whitty, here's
a new study from a trio of Columbia psychologists that tries to settle
this question. Test subjects were broken up into two groups, and each
group was allowed to pick between pricier and cheaper versions of
various items like airline tickets. Group A was told that the more
expensive items included the price of a "carbon tax," whose proceeds
would go toward clean-energy development. Group B was told that the
costlier items included the price of a "carbon offset," whose proceeds
would go toward clean-energy development. Exact same policy, just
different names for each.
You can guess what happened next. In the "offset" group, Democrats,
Republicans, and independents all flocked toward the pricier item. They
were perfectly happy to pay an extra surcharge to fund CO2
reduction—even Republicans gushed about the benefits of doing so. Not
only that, but most of the group supported making the surcharge
mandatory. In the "tax" group, however, Democrats were the only ones
willing to pay for the costlier item. Republicans in this group were
much more inclined to grumble about how much more expensive the tax
made things. Labels really do matter.
It's amazing the degree to which Republican have such an un-thinking, knee-jerk to response with anything with "tax" in the name. If it is a worthy idea as a "fee" or "offset" it is a worthy idea as a "tax." We've long seen in political science that winning political battles often depends on winning linguistic battles. I guess we should expect Democrats to start talking a lot more about "fees" and "offsets" because our government certainly needs to get more revenue instead of the government at a discount we are currently getting. How about a "fee" on earning more than a million a year.