My latest article at FEE. An excerpt:
Just about everyone agrees that incentives affect behavior, but economists really mean it. That’s because economists take the logic of incentives further than most other people are willing to. Such analysis often reveals that government policies have unintended consequences that seem shocking to the average person. The list includes welfare programs that lead to higher rates of birth out of wedlock, seatbelt laws that lead to more pedestrian deaths, and even the possibility of changes in estate taxation that lead to people strategically timing their deaths.
But perhaps one of the most perverse distortions comes from unemployment benefits. Economists argue that these can provide an incentive for people simply not to work. Indeed, a new NBER working paper by Marcus Hagedorn, Iourii Manovskii, and Kurt Mitman estimates that the abrupt end of unemployment benefit extensions led to 1.8 million additional new US jobs created in 2014.
The theory here is straightforward: when the government subsidizes an activity, other things equal, people will engage in more of it.