Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Michael Simkovic (USC; Google Scholar) & Meirav Furth-Matzkin (UCLA), Pigouvian Contracts:
Pigouvian taxes are often used to limit environmental externalities such as pollution. We argue that consumer contracts generate externalities by overwhelming consumers’ attention. Depleting each consumer’s attention harms consumers collectively because lower comprehension levels enable sellers to adopt less efficient and more one-sided terms. We propose to tax sellers in proportion to the costs that comprehending their contracts would impose on consumers. This would force sellers to internalize these costs and incentivize them to invest in contract simplification and forego strategic obfuscation. As a result, the costs to consumers of comprehending would decrease, and comprehension rates would rise.
To further penalize inefficient contracts while reducing the tax burden on efficient contracts, we propose subsidizing consumer comprehension and information sharing efforts. Inefficient contracts would thereby be strongly disincentivized.