Wednesday, May 12, 2021

You May Not Always Believe in Incentives, but Incentives ...

... believe in you.

Progressives are not hesitant to believe that McDonald's, for example, induces consumers to eat at McDonald's. They in fact will in many cases paint a picture whereby McDonald's is insidiously using some kind of mind-control secret sauce to force people to buy and eat lots more of its food than they would otherwise want to. 

What's more progressives tend to believe that many people can't or won't decide for themselves how best to choose something as important as education for their children--especially in a voucher/school choice system that funds students rather than systems. If left up to "them" (so the narrative goes), they would opt for a choice that benefited the parent even if it harmed the child. 

It seems that progressives believe many or most people are bad at making good choices for themselves and easily influenced by convenient temptations. Their worry often is that people will be hapless victims to manipulation in opposition to their own actual long-term interest. 

So why is it so hard for progressives to believe that government programs invite moral hazard and incite poor behavior and bad long-term choices? How is it that they can with a straight face claim unemployment benefits do not impede job search and acceptance? 

Megan McArdle illuminates the problem quite plainly. This is not a new problem with regard to unemployment benefits nor is it unique to it. There are many examples of this phenomenon. We saw the same obstinance the last time unemployment benefits were interfering with economic recovery. Progressives pushed back emotionally and strongly against arguments and evidence like that from Casey Mulligan.

It is as if progressives are not entirely consistent when it comes to believing in the power of incentives.

P.S. Veronique de Rugy was ahead of this problem over a year ago developing a straightforward and MUCH better method for unemployment insurance. From the linked piece:
Personal unemployment insurance savings accounts (PISAs) are designed to maintain a financial incentive to return to work as soon as possible. These accounts are individually owned by workers who, during spells of unemployment, can make orderly withdrawals to partially compensate for the loss to their income but can keep and build the balance during their regular times of employment. At the time of retirement, workers can use the balance in these accounts to bolster their retirement income or transfer to their heirs.
The incentive for workers to return to work is as strong as their desire to keep their own savings for retirement. It is thus a solution that solves the double bind of providing insurance and keeping strong incentives to return to work.

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