Monday, June 14, 2010

Failure of the Soda Tax

Slate has an interesting article about why a plan to reduce the dangers of excess soda consumption with a tax will be a miserable failure: Because Americans tend to be defiant trolls who resist any claims made by an authority, just for the sake of resisting.
The article begins by pointing out previous cases of pointless defiance. In Miami, a law to discourage phosphorus use in detergents, on the grounds that it encourages harmful algae blooms, was resisted by consumers who wildly stocked up on phosphorous based detergents, even resorting to the black market to do so. These detergents did not cost any less, and did not clean any better, but the thought of giving the government the finger proved irresistable.
Or a later study in which people were left in a room that had a marker and a sign urging them "Do not write on the wall." Huge numbers of people who would not have normally written on the wall now did so, often defiantly daring the authorities to punish them for it. Some people even stole the sign, not because it had any monitary value, but as another contemptuous gesture towards those in charge.
Apparently part of the reason is related to choice. Americans, and possibly other people too, resent having an option removed from them. Any removal of an option sets off immediate thoughts of tyranny, and poking fingers in the eyes of authority for the sheer sake of annoying them.
The article does point out that people are less likely to defy things presented in a different, choice granting, right, like the light of education. Taxing soda to discourage people from drinking it brings out the rebellion. Taxing soda to pay for an inititative to pay for education, which will teach that drinking soda is bad, results in a compliant shrug. People might drink slightly less soda, and don't get upset about paying more because, hey, when was more education ever a bad thing? You still have the choice to drink the soda, it's not positioned as something you "can't" do.
Maybe politicians need to pay more attention to this. Sometimes even having a justification makes an order go down easier. If cameras are forbidden just because, expect tantrums. If cameras are forbidden because the flash would damage the equipment, people keep their camera stowed.


TwoYaks said...

I wish I could think of where I saw it (I think it's in one of my social psych books), there was a study where an actor tried to cut off people who were photocopying great big stacks of stuff. The subject was either asked if they could jump in line, or asked if they could jump in line because they wanted to make photocopies.

The people who got the justification, even a circular one, were far more likely to allow people to stop photocopying and allow the person to skip ahead of them.

So the explanation doesn't even need to be a logical one. There just needs to be one so the brain goes 'oh, they have a reason.' I'd suggest "No Flash photography, because flash photography is not allowed by this sign."

themadengineer said...

I remember hearing about that experiment, and it's one of the things that gave me this idea.

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