Preference for concentrated effects

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Policy-makers show a preference for concentrated effects when making political decisions, presumably due to the fact that constituents will be more likely to support an action whose benefits are focused in a certain area, or in a small number of entities, over one with perhaps larger benefits that are spread out over multiple areas, or spread out over many entities within a given area.

This preference is probably due to the following things:

  • Concentrated effects are easier to measure
  • Concentrated effects are easier to understand and explain
  • In general, concentrated effects are more meme-like, and hence tend to be weighted more heavily in the collective decisionmaking process


It's not clear whether it's "people" in general, or mainly just policitians who show this sort of preference. For example, most people I've talked to would probably be in favor of dumping daylight savings time because of the personal inconvenience, and never mind the energy savings -- but perhaps that is because the "dispersed" effects of inconvenience are more concentrated to them, whereas a politician can take credit for saving energy (as documented by long official reports with lots of numbers and charts) more easily than for reducing inconvenience (documented only sparsely and anecdotally). --Woozle 11:59, 7 April 2007 (EDT)


Implementing "daylight savings time" (DST), which officially sets all clocks in most of the United States forward by one hour during the longest days of the year, has a concentrated effect of greatly reducing power usage (during the months when it is in effect) over not implementing DST. However, it also has a diffuse (and, to many people, much more immediate) effect of causing loss of sleep (and hence possibly more road accidents and other incidents) due to the interruption of sleep patterns, the need for many people to get up while it is still dark when it would otherwise be daylight, and so forth.

Requiring air bags in all cars apparently has the concentrated effect of reducing traffic fatalities. However, it also has a number of more diffuse effects:

  • short drivers (and short passengers in any air-bag equipped seat) tend to experience a larger number of injuries in accidents where air bags are deployed
  • steering wheels equipped with air bags tend to be fatter, obscuring the driver's view of the dashboard and possibly leading to more accidents due to the driver having to spend more time jockeying for a suitable head position when trying to read information from the dashboard (e.g. to check their current speed)
  • air bags add cost to purchasing and repairing a vehicle, leading to a small extra financial drain which propagates outward in many different ways that are very difficult to measure