Appendix I: Why Advocates Can Resolve Six Issues While Congress Fails to Resolve Any

Behavioral economists have proven that nearly every person avoids costs far more intently than they  seek equivalent gains, a trait known as “loss aversion.”9 So, voters who expect a piece of legislation  to place a burden on them usually oppose it far more vigorously than supporters work to enact it.  

For example, economists largely agree that Americans would nearly all benefit if Congress lowered  marginal tax rates while eliminating most deductions. But the few groups that would lose on  balance invariably threaten to unseat incumbents who support such measures, dooming tax reform  on Capitol Hill.10 

Furthermore, we have looked at how think tanks from far left to far right propose to resolve each  problem this project will address11 — and then looked at the Pew Research Center’s analysis of nine  types of voters.12 Each proposal clearly conflicted with the attitudes of at least five types of voters. 

Yet we found evidence that the six problems can be resolved together so that voters in each  category would benefit enough to accept the overall costs. To get there, we selected what seemed to  be the most widely beneficial, cost-effective solution for each issue — and then sought reactions to that  mix of solutions from high-profile political activists ranging from very liberal to ultra-conservative. 

To each activist, we described the parts of our grand bargain we expected him/her to strongly  support. We then asked: To achieve all that, would you accept the rest, including the parts you  would otherwise reject? 

After some discussion, each said yes. And from those conversations, it was clear that if we omitted  any of the six issues, at least one activist would have been much less interested or opposed. In effect,  from their perspective, the benefits would have been insufficient to accept the parts they objected to.  

As for how voters might react, almost 80 percent see the country as headed in the wrong direction13 — and 70 percent worry about their children’s future.14 So, if advocates whom voters trust were to  present them with a detailed grand bargain that would significantly improve their families’ prospects,  we expect that the vast majority would prefer that deal over the country’s current trajectory.  

Furthermore, when various stakeholders meet, none make progress unless nearly all agree on an  outcome. So, each negotiator is motivated to look for a mix of solutions that will benefit the other  sides enough for them to support the result.  

Our two-party elections deprive most politicians of this motivation: they can win just by blaming the  other side for America’s ills, offering sound bites as solutions, and catering to a few well-organized  groups.


9 See D. Kahneman and A. Tversky, “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk,” Econometrica, (March 1979). 

10 Norm Ornstein, “The Rise and Precipitous Fall of Serious Bipartisan Tax Reform,” The Atlantic, Mar. 20, 2014.

11 The think tanks were Brookings, American Enterprise, New America, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,  Cato, Heritage, Niskanen, Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute. 

12 The nine types: faith and flag conservatives, committed conservatives, populist right, ambivalent right, stressed  sideliners, outsider left, Democratic mainstays, establishment liberals and progressive left. “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The  Political Typology,” Nov. 9, 2021. 


14“The majority of U.S. parents are worried about their kids’ financial future,”, July 21,2021