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Letters for Yellowstone

Here’s an interesting story from the NY Times on the decision to allow snowmobiles in Yellowstone: Flooded With Comments, Officials Plug Their Ears
Apparently, a flood of messages were sent to Washington DC to comment on proposed policy changes.
From a political economy perspective, it is a nice illustration of how political participation, in this case, letter writing, goes up as cost declines.
Email availability and “AutoTurf” campaigns (form letters written by advocacy groups and sent by members) have greatly reduced the cost of commenting on policy. As a result, the government is getting more comments.
However, there is a downside. Since it is cheaper to send the messages, each message carries less weight in the mind of the policymaker. If someone cares enough to spend 30 minutes writing a letter and the cash for a stamp, they might care more about the issue than someone spending 20 seconds sending an email.
Thus a paradox of participation, as the cost of communicating declines, there will be more messages sent, however, the total value to the policymaker of that communication might decline as well.
In the case of the snowmobiles, the Interior Department said they had received 360,000 comments, 80 percent of which want to ban snowmobiles (NYTimes).
The result? A new policy allowing for a 35 percent increase in the number of snowmobiles.

Filed under: Economics, Policy, Politics, Technology



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