Max Borders‘ latest Ideas Matter update offers a useful set of questions you can use to critique harmful, counterproductive public policies.

Say you’re by the water cooler or at a dinner party. The discussion turns to politics. Sometimes you don’t know exactly how to make the argument. Wouldn’t it be simpler if your conversation partner could help make your argument for you? Want a simple, useful exercise for unpacking the problems of political economy?

Take any issue–any subsidy or regulation, for example. Then ask four questions:

Who benefits?
Who chooses?
Who pays?
What’s fair?

The Stossel piece [below] is a perfect example of how one might answer these questions on the subject of ethanol subsidy. This framework can be helpful to anyone who knows intuitively there is something wrong with a policy. Here are some examples to play with; try with your friends:

  • Light Rail
  • Medicare
  • Mohair Subsidies
  • Food cart / Food truck bans
  • Taxi cab licenses