Living In Cloud Cuckoo Land

Make something more expensive, and people buy less.

Seems pretty clear, right?  I mean, really FREAKIN’ obvious!

I remember the anti-smoking campaigns in the US back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Television commercials for cigarettes were banned, movies started to shun scenes showing tobacco use, public service announcements detailing the health risks of smoking flooded the airwaves, and each container of tobacco had to carry a warning.

surgeon generals warning on a pack of cigarettes

Nothing seemed to have much impact, since the percentage of the population that smoked barely changed after each new ad campaign rollout.  It was as if nicotine was addictive or something!

The effect of the propaganda blitz had almost no discernible effect, but the numbers of smokers kept falling.  What was the cause?

Mainly it was the unintended consequences of heavy taxes.  (Last link leads to a PDF file.)  The anti-smoking campaigns might not have convinced people to stop buying cigarettes, but it did change public attitudes towards tobacco.  If tobacco companies were villains, and smoking products weren’t considered cool anymore, then politicians were free to levy ever more taxes on them.  This drove up the price, which kept many people from starting to smoke in the first place.

This is hardly something that is a mystery.  Politicians pushing environmental causes routinely brag about how they are going to increase the cost of gasoline, or bankrupt the coal industry.  The reasoning behind such statements are so clear that no one ever has to bother to ask them what they mean.

Okay, so it is blindingly obvious that we can reduce unwanted acts by increasing the personal costs.  But what happens if we instead reduce the personal costs of unwanted behavior?

When I grow up.....

California voters passed Proposition 47 back in 2014, a law which changed many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors with the stroke of a pen.  The idea was that it would relieve prison overcrowding, as well as save the state a ton of money by not having to pay for the upkeep so many inmates.  The law was titled the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, even though the entire purpose was to send thousands upon thousands of criminals back on to the streets.

I don’t think I have to spell out what happened.

burglar breaking in through window

It must be very comforting to live in a fantasy world where one assumes that passing a law which goes against easily perceived reality will force reality to change.  This is one of the many reasons why I am oh so glad I don’t live in California.

(Classical reference in title.)


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