Anything But a Carbon Tax! Psychology Reveals How to Better Price Pollution

tax definition photo

photo: Alan Cleaver via flickr.

I've long said people have reflexive reactions to the word tax and now have a psychological study to prove it, thanks to Mother Jones. Released back in December, the research, published in Psychological Science, examines reactions to two identical hypothetical programs based on whether it was called a 'carbon offset' or a 'carbon tax'. Tax or Offset, Program Would Fund Cleantech the Same
The study was conducted using self-identified Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. They were given the details of program that would increase the cost of carbon-producing activities, with the proceeds going to fund renewable energy or carbon capture projects. For half the volunteers it was called a carbon offset, while it was called a carbon tax for the other half. They then had to choose to purchase two identical items, with one being higher priced due to the carbon pricing.

The results are probably what you (and indeed the researchers themselves) expected: "Democrats were equally likely to choose the more expensive product whether the additional charge was labeled as a tax or an offset, whereas Independents and Republicans were more likely to choose the costlier product when the included fee was labeled an offset."

Again, it's the exact same proposal in the details. All that's changed is the name.

Furthermore, when the surcharge was called a tax, Democrats still chose the more expensive item, while Republicans and Independents were more likely to go for the cheaper item.

For the psychologist among TreeHugger readers: A Dirty Word or a Dirty World? [PDF]

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