The Mercatus Center released a paper (PDF) this month co-authored by Ted Gayer (an economist at the Brooking Institution) and W. Kip Viscusi (an economics professor at Vanderbilt), titled “Overriding Consumer Preferences with Energy Regulations” which questions the economic justification for various government schemes implemented to force energy efficiency improvements in consumer household products, automobiles, lightbulbs, etc.
The abstract is below:
This paper examines the economic justification for recent U.S. energy regulations proposed or enacted by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The case studies include mileage requirements for motor vehicles and energy-efficiency standards for clothes dryers, room air conditioners, and light bulbs. The main findings are that the standards have a negligible effect on greenhouse gases and the preponderance of the estimated benefits stems from private benefits to consumers, based on the regulators’ presumption of consumer irrationality.
The paper walks through the basic economic understanding of consumer rationality, and explains why behavioral critiques of consumer rationality fail to undermine the general conclusion that consumers are overwhelmingly rational and tend to act in their own best interest, and that “in most contexts consumers are better equipped than analysts or policymakers to make market decisions that affect themselves.”