31 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2008 Last revised: 18 Aug 2009
Date Written: July 6, 2009
The government has responded to misleading advertising by banning it, engaging in counter-advertising and taxing the product. In this paper, we consider the social welfare effects of those different responses to misinformation. While misinformation lowers consumer surplus, its effect on social welfare is ambiguous. Misleading advertising leads to over-consumption but that may be offsetting the under-consumption associated with monopoly prices. If all advertising is misinformation then a tax or quantity restriction on advertising maximizes social welfare. Other policy interventions are inferior and cannot improve on a pure advertising tax. If it is impossible to tax misleading information without also taxing utility increasing advertising, then combining taxes or bans on advertising with other policies can increase welfare.
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