I recently participated in a couple of online surveys that used conjoint analysis techniques to determine my preferences as a consumer. Conjoint analysis is a statistical technique used to determine what combination of features or attributes people prefer and how those attributes influence people’s decision making.
So, for example, one of the recent surveys I answered dealt with choices a company could make about new products they could offer – which would I be more likely to buy at what price? The other survey I participated in was about transportation services, and which services I would value at what cost. The questions got harder. As I made choices, I was shown packages of products and services that I valued more and more similarly, or where the costs got closer to what I was willing to pay. Still, I had to choose, and that gave the survey sponsors more information about what I valued.
These surveys and my memories of other conjoint analysis surveys I’ve taken in the past on employee benefits and other topics got me thinking about use of this technique to address many of our nation’s problems.
Do we really know what choices our citizens would make, how they weigh various options? Why don't we ask?
Conservatives assume everyone would rather pay lower taxes and have less government intrusion in their lives. Liberals assume everyone wants more even income distribution and a higher level of subsidized or free government benefits. But has anyone ever asked the citizenry what they want? And been willing to deal with the responses?
Obviously, we would all like to get more for less, the most goods and services for the least payment. And ideally, we would all like to live on a generous dole without having to lift a finger to work nor to pay a dime for our comfortable leisure.
But we know that is not an option. So which, among the many realistic options our society could choose, would you prefer?
Should we leave our federal government spending at its current level and raise taxes to cover it, or should we reduce federal spending and keep taxes the same? Or reduce spending further and reduce taxes as well?
Then let’s talk about income redistribution. How much should a billionaire pay in taxes? How much a millionaire? Someone making $250,000? Or $50,000? Or $20,000? What is raised by each of these levels of taxation? What does that mean for spending? Are you satisfied with that level of spending? If not, whose taxes would you raise by how much in order to cover the level of spending you desire?
The technology exists today with conjoint analysis to put a variety of baskets of government goods and services and taxes and regulations in front of people and ask which they prefer. With a conjoint analysis survey, as I indicated above, the choices get progressively harder, as people are asked to differentiate between things they value more and more equally.
But at the end of the survey, you would have a pretty good idea of what our citizens really want. There would be a range of what people want, but you’d know where some consensus might be found. Wouldn’t that help our hidebound politicians on both sides of the aisle?
The issues of government taxation and spending are complex. But so are the issues we address in our daily lives. Only the dollars are smaller in our households than in our government. Maybe we should treat our citizenry as responsible adults and let them have a voice.
What is stopping our lawmakers and think tanks from asking what people want? The fact that they don’t want to know, because then they would have to try to address the citizenry, rather than satisfy their own predilections.
Would you like to make your choices known?