Expressive Behaviour and Public Policy |

Expressive Behaviour and Public Policy


Support for public policy is subject to expressive behaviour. Through expressive behaviour, a person confirms a chosen identity, to oneself and to others. Often expressive behaviour involves low cost acts, such as voting and rhetoric. A person may wish to display an identity of being a nice caring individual, by supporting a public policy of giving tax-financed income transfers to people who are not working, on the grounds that the people not working are unfortunate. In fact, the people not working may be lazy. However, it may not be socially acceptable to say that people are lazy. The result can be an expressive policy trap in which people who supported the policy would veto the policy if they could. It may seem unusual that a person would wish veto a public policy for which he or she expressed support. However, the support was expressed because each person rationally knows that no individuals can express themselves as being kind and generous knowing that their expressiveness will not affect policy outcomes. A government should know when popular support for a policy is expressive. In some countries, the government is also expressive, through rhetoric that supports public policies that are not enacted. In some cases, the governments actually implement the policies. Of course, not all people are expressive in declaring support for public policies that they would veto if they were decisive; a person may refuse to engage in rhetoric such as "we should all be equal and should share incomes" that disregards the role of incentives in human behaviour. Discussions of perceptions of public policy should recognize the role of expressive behaviour in declared policy preferences. Means should also be considered of avoiding or exiting expressive policy traps of public policy.

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Prof. Arye L. Hillman, William Gittes Chair, Professor of Economics, Bar-Ilan University

Monday, 13 August 2012
6.30 p.m. - 9.00 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-1
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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