Maybe Not Meddle with Meddling Externalities

To begin, a meddling externality is where others would be willing to pay in order to change or outlaw the behavior of others, essentially people are willing to pay in order to meddle in the lives of others. In practice this kind of externality is no different than being willing to pay for breathing less polluted air. You might say, yes but that is just in your head, but isn’t all value? What is the difference between being willing to pay $20 dollars for cleaner air, for coffee, for making is so others don’t watch pornagraphy, or that people can’t date outside a narrow set of criteria. These are all psychic harms and benefits when you get down to it. While I accepted this logically, in my heart I was never able to care about them the same as a regular externality.
I finally put my finger on why I tend to think differently about meddling externalities than other externalities. In economics we take preferences as a given, but in actuality they can change and be influenced in fairly predictable ways. I really doubt that in 50 years there will still be a lot of people upset by gay marriage. For civil rights at one point in time there were very large meddling externalities by bigoted whites about people of color being in their “proper place”, but even in the areas where such bigotry used to thrive, such meddling externalities have probably if anything reversed direction. I think if marijuana became legal in 50 years people would largely stop caring about others using it, indeed we are already seeing this. Allowing people freedom tends to result in meddlers changing their preferences, since often these preferences are not founded on anything aside from feelings about outgroups. And since this is the case, I would probably often permit behaviors that at the time might be inefficient due to factors of current taste if such tastes are likely to change due to ingroup outgroup dynamics.

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