Ask, how much?

I enjoyed this EconTalk podcast with Morris Fiorina discussing political polarization.

I also learned a valuable lesson. When somebody says that something sounds like a good idea, ask them how much they are willing to pay for it. Fiorina explains:

On spending items, we always ask these [in surveys]: do you think these programs should be increased, decreased, or kept the same? The only thing people ever want to cut is foreign aid, welfare, and the space program. Everything else they want to increase. But then if you ask them, what would you like to– I mean it’s true.

When you start asking them how much [it changes]. I remember when people in the business school here did a study during the health care fight: how much would people be willing to pay for universal access? Everybody says: that’s a good idea; of course everybody should have insurance. And I think they lost the majority at something like $50 a year for a family. That everybody’s willing to do something that’s good as long as it’s cheap. But if you say, well, it’s going to cost¬†you¬†$100, you say, well, I guess we can do without universal access.

Yep. Talk is cheap. It’s easy to say something is a good idea. You may even get a pat on the back. But, if we pry and ask how much they would be willing pay for it, we might discover they think it’s only a good idea if someone else pays for it.