Individuals support policies they don’t live by voluntarily
Over at the New Yorker, James Surowiecki draws our attention to this oddity:
The curious fact is that many people buying three-ton Suburbans for that arduous two-mile trip to the supermarket also want Congress to pass laws making it harder to buy Suburbans at all.
This is, he notes, not an isolated phenomenon: individuals often support policies that will force them to make different choices — choices they’re not willing to make of their own volition. Furthermore, this is not irrational behavior. Oftentimes an individual decision will confer competitive advantage, but the collective result of those individual decisions is deleterious. So it makes complete sense for an individual to say, in essence, “force me (and others) to make different decisions.”
This is relevant to the constant hubbub about environmental hypocrisy. How dare Al Gore advocate for policies he doesn’t follow in his personal life!? Well, turn it around: if even someone as committed as Al Gore is not willing to make these decisions, because they will disadvantage him in one way or another, isn’t that a powerful argument on behalf of policy?
This is also relevant to the mind-numbingly self-righteous hectoring of the public we still, to my ongoing chagrin, hear from greens. It should be clear at this point that "doing the green thing" in many cases puts an individual at a disadvantage, either economically or socially. Maybe if we nag people enough we can overcome this dynamic, but I doubt it. The thing to do is to change the playing field so that green choices confer advantage.