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Government Marketing 101

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Public Advisor
Casey B. Mulligan, PhD, is a Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago. Previously, he served as Chief Economist of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and as a visiting professor teaching public economics at Harvard University, Clemson University, and the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago. His research covers capital and labor taxation, the gender wage gap, health economics, Social Security, voting and the economics of aging.

Living in an interconnected world, we have an interest in choices of others. It matters to us, for example, how they manage their health or whether (or how long) they attend school. Rather than encouraging prosocial behavior, government intervention often undermines it.

The private and public sectors have different incentives when it comes to producing, distributing, and promoting a product. For-profit companies aim to generate the profits that create value for their owners. Public officials aim to stay in office and enhance the power they have while in office.

The public–private difference is especially stark when it comes to the advertising and marketing activities that could increase the fraction of the population that uses a good, whether it be health insurance, schooling, vaccines, or other goods with social benefits. In the private sector, the purpose of product advertising and marketing is to generate profit by making potential consumers aware of the product as well as increasing the intensity of their interest.

A public official may gain some political favor by touting policies he or she claims have expanded prosocial behaviors. Genuinely expanding those behaviors would contribute to the touted metrics, but so would fudging the data. 

The full article can be found in National Review.

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