The visible hand in economics

More smoking in public

Posted on: April 23, 2008

I’ve talked a lot before about hyperbolic discounting, time inconsistency and smoking. Reading a paper by Gruber and Koszegi on the topic yesterday, I came across an interesting little aside.

They point out that, for an addict, smoking in different periods is complementary. That means that taxes to overcome time inconsistency problems are substitutes: if your tax in one period is too low then you can compensate by raising it in another period. The same holds in a spatial sense: if you can’t prevent smoking in the home then this rationale suggests that over-regulating smoking in public places is optimal. It’s an interesting way to look at banning smoking in public places because it is specifically targeting the welfare of the smokers, not considering externalities to third parties.

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