Robert Waldmann suggests that we use special interest politics to our advantage:

Those of us who fear global warming want to make it more expensive to burn coal. One way to do this is to impose absurdly high wages and restrictive work rules on coal mines. We know how to drive prices up. It is easy. Militant unions have shown the way.

I propose the American Power and Give Coal Miners a Break Act. The idea is to impose a special minimum wage for coal miners (which must be even higher than the wages they get) *and* to require time and a half if they work more than 30 hours a week. This implies a higher price of coal, lower demand for coal , and, oh look 30 hours a week, just as many employed coal miners.

I am not sure what I think about this. The obvious retort is that we don’t want to provide intellectual justification to this type of politics. As James Hamilton likes to say, “a glass of wine may be good for the heart but a glass a day is not the best advice to give to an alcoholic”

On the other hand, I have become increasingly convinced that fighting what economist think of as public choice problems is really trench warfare against genetically engrained human tendencies. We might be able to convince one generation that the Corn Subsidy is a bad idea but that will do absolutely nothing to prevent the next generation from proposing the Local Food subsidy.

People want to reward activities that look like a good idea and are simply not inclined to be skeptical about their ability to discern good ideas from bad. Nor are they sensitive to their ability to create special interest groups via benevolently intentioned public policy.

Perhaps over time we can combat this problem by expanding an understanding of public choice theory, but I don’t think its possible to turn the tide simply by accumulating victories on individual issues.

And given that you “Make policy with the electorate you have, not the one you wish you had” I see a strong case for Waldmann’s proposal.

This all, of course, based on the assumption that we want to take costly action to prevent global warming, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

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