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I think sincere members of both the left and the right dig their heels in regarding their preferred policies, or rather against their opponents proposed policies, because of a genuine worry that their opponents’ policies would backfire and produce bad results. There are of course a large number of conservatives and liberals who don’t give a damn and are just digging their heels in because that makes them feel good. Let’s ignore them.

People and politicians seem to be frustrated with the animosity of the political process today. In this case, how come we do not see more bipartisan support for “triggers” to be included in the legislation that is being debated. I suppose the fiscal cliff debate was the result of one such trigger, but that is not what I have in mind. The fiscal cliff trigger basically said that if no new deal on taxing and spending was reached by this year’s end, we’d revert to a “contingency” budget. This is typical.

But the kind of trigger I am referring to is something like a safety valve. For example, take the issue of the carbon tax. How come serious proposals for the carbon tax do not come along with ways to tie to the severity of the tax to outcomes we care about. If the consensus science is so strong, then this should cause no consternation for folks. If global temperatures (or some damages due to them) markedly rise amidst the tax, the tax automatically increases. On the other hand, if no damages from global warming present themselves, the tax trigger will have the tax decrease. Why would someone oppose such a thing?

Or how about minimum wage legislation? I am fully aware of all of the moral arguments for and against, but ignore those and assume it is the social responsibility of the business class to be the poverty alleviators in America. Why not tie the wage to measured unemployment (among particular classes)? If unemployment does not move much from some baseline, then the wage stays, or can even be slightly increased. If unemployment increases, then the wage is decreased. Why would someone oppose such a thing?

Or take the budget debate in general? You can imagine all ways to tie up spending and tax triggers to outcomes we care about. How come we hear so little discussion of this? Wouldn’t it be the way that reasonable people compromised? And wouldn’t it reduce the uncertainty that inevitably results when we have people deciding to change laws on a case-by-case basis year after year after year? Private individuals ability to plan under certain policies, even if bad policies, is probably a better outcome than having folks grope in the dark about the course of future policy and how that will effect their well being.

2 Responses to “Why Don’t We See More Triggers?”

  1. Common Sense says:

    After all, if it is big evil energy companies that are behind legalizing fracking, where are the big evil manufacturers legalizing low-income labour opportunities?

    Imagine trying to live off of a wage that is so low it is currently illegal – say, $6 an hour. After being forced to voluntarily take a job, you would make $6*8hrs*5days per week, $240 a week. Say, $75 a week per groceries (which, at the public market, would only get you something like 2 dozen apples, 4 dozen bananas, 13 bags of onions, 5 dozen eggs, 2 bags of assorted deli meats, 4 pounds of pasta, 13 boxes of cereal, 2 pounds of coffee, 2 burritos, some chicken, maybe a few fish, bread, carrots, potatoes,…somewhere around 40X more than King George had in all his splendor), $25 a week for bad habits (beers & smokes), $20 for toiletries, $100 a week for rent, and $20 more for transportation.

    Imagine living without cable!

  2. Harry says:

    When the Reagan tax cuts were being debated in the Senate, there was much hubbub from Fritz Hollings and others about lost revenue using the static straight line model, which ignored the Law of Diminishing Returns, the Laffer Curve, and other principles of Voodoo Economics.

    Phil Gramm offered something like the following: if revenues rose after cutting taxes, then let’s cut them some more, until revenues stop rising.

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