GIGANTIC sugared soft drinks are disgusting. Let's just get that out of the way. Can we also agree that the high-calorie drinks rich people like to consume—red wine, beer, caramel frappuccinos, mango smoothies with and a protein boost—aren't at all disgusting? At any rate, we yuppie -drinkers know how to look after ourselves. In contrast, the wretched classless hordes, many of them being of dubious heritage, lack the refinement of taste necessary to make autonomy unobjectionable. Those who abuse their liberty, filling the sidewalks of our great cities with repulsive shuffling blimps, can't expect to keep it, can they?But should we really be surprised that paternalistic regulation would be so-targeted? When I work backwards from the set of paternalistic regulations to the most plausible underlying motives, I still wind up with the conclusion I'd reached a year ago:
The behaviours of the lower orders disgust me [the regulator]. They give in to base animalistic sensory pleasures. We need to fix them. Tax and regulate them until they stop being noticeably annoying. We'll say it's for their own good, but we'll really stick to the kinds of things that annoy us. So things like making sure everyone in low decile schools takes a course in basic personal finance so they understand how hire-purchase works and avoid making mistakes with loans, we'll not worry about that. But we'll tax fatty foods because obese people are unpleasant to look at and we'll tax the kinds of booze that the lower orders drink because few things are more unpleasant than poor drunk idiots.It's not implausible that poorer cohorts are more in need of paternalistic regulation than higher income cohorts, if only because of differences in intelligence across cohorts. Do flip back to the linked post and consider the stylized facts there presented:
It still looks to me as though paternalistic regulation is generally targeted at annoying behaviours exhibited by poor people, with sufficient route-arounds to keep the regulations from being too annoying for higher income cohorts. Bloomberg's soda restrictions were just a bit more blatant than most. Again, pulling from last year's post:
- The kinds of alcohol that poor people like get taxed far more heavily relative to overall price than do the kinds of alcohol that rich people like. That isn't unreasonable where the external costs of alcohol use are proportionate to the pure alcohol consumed, but when we start going for minimum price regulation and specific taxes on RTDs, it looks an awful lot more targeted.
- Official government agencies ignore the evidence on the J-curve and instead promote an abstinence only line. The only sense I can make of this is the noble lie: dumb people who'd otherwise be tempted to drink too much if they drink at all shouldn't drink; smart people can see through the official line.
- The war on drugs is more heavily enforced against poor people than against rich people.
- "Fat taxes" would disproportionately hit the poor. The tax will be a greater portion of the purchase price of hamburger meat compared to scotch fillet, even if the fat proportions are identical. And, the higher the proportion of ingredient cost in total price (as opposed to say the input of a high quality chef), the greater will be the the proportionate burden of an ingredient tax. Any bets on whether the price of a McDonald's burger goes up by more, percentage-wise, than a Ruth's Chris steak if we put in a fat tax?
- If the point of an "internality" tax like a fat tax is to force the individual to weigh the health costs to himself when purchasing, we'd need to scale those taxes by income if we think that rich people respond less to a small per unit increase in food prices than do poor people but suffer from similar behavioural anomalies; if we think that smart rich people are already weighing up those costs and compensating with increased exercise, then it doesn't matter that the per unit charge has less effect on the that group.
- There's all kinds of talk of mandating that fast food restaurants prominently display nutritional information and calorie counts. But folks tend to overestimate calorie counts at fast food places and underestimate them at the fancier restaurants where rich people eat. Because everybody expects fast food to have lots of calories.
- Finally, high IQ folks may be better able to route around whatever regulations are put in place.
One of the better critiques of policy prescriptions based on behavioural economics is that it requires the modeller to step out of the system and to assume that he and the regulator who implements his policies are less subject to the problems ascribed to the regulation's subjects. Public choice folks worry that the paternalistic regulators suffer from the same behavioural foibles as everyone else but have worse incentives than do individuals who have to suffer the consequences of their own decisions. But if the implicit model is that all of this behavioural stuff really only applies to those people over there - poor dumb people, then there's good reason to keep the modeller out of the system.Recall that Berggren found very few articles in behavioural economics advancing policy prescriptions consider the possibility that regulators might also be subject to behavioural anomalies; I think it's because of a general assumption that they do in fact sit above those they're regulating.