A Rare Exception
By David Henderson
“More Americans believe in global warming–but they won’t pay much to fix it.” So reads the headline of an article by James Rainey on NBC News’s web site. Read the piece and see if you agree with me that that is the most important part of the article. Why? The line underneath the title says why: “Americans are unwilling to pay $10 a month to fight climate change, a survey found.”
Or you can just read the second paragraph:
But even as two new surveys confirm the public’s growing awareness of global warming, they also indicate that the issue is still not a front-burner concern and that taxpayers don’t want to pay very much to rein in the greenhouse gases that are at the root of the problem.
Almost the whole of the rest of the piece looks at all the encouraging news that Americans are increasingly convinced of, and concerned about, global warming. But the majority of these self-same Americans don’t want to pay as much as $120 a year to fight global warming.
Why my title, “A Rare Exception?” Because normally when mainstream media people write about global warming, they talk about what a threat it is and, if there are any data on the cost of doing something about it or the amount people are willing to pay to do something about it, they tend to leave such data for the end of the piece. But in this article, the line underneath the headline and the second paragraph discuss how little people are willing to pay. (Note: That amount is far below, by about an order of magnitude, the cost of the various proposals people have.) In other words, they make the most important part of the article the part that gets the most attention.
By the way, the polling data are consistent with many other bits of polling data on government programs that cost something. Ask people whether they want a program that sounds good, and a strong majority will often agree. Then ask the same people if they want a program that sounds good and costs even a modest amount, and that majority will quickly fall to a minority. As University of Virginia political scientist Steven E. Rhoads wrote, after sharing such data in his modern classic, The Economist’s View of the World, “We, the public, seem quite willing, if given half a chance, to believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”
HT2 Tyler Cowen.