Can Public Policies Be More Costly Than Beneficial? | Social Studies

April 19, 2016 Jennifer Brandt

Can Public Policies Be More Costly Than Beneficial? | Social Studies 

As you expand your knowledge of the government and its role, you should begin to understand that the cost of certain government policies – or public policies – can and do exceed their intended benefits.

What do we mean by this? Let’s break down this high-emphasis topic in preparation for the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ Social Studies subtest.

What is a Public Policy?

According to, a public policy is a collection of laws, mandates, or regulations established through a political process. The government uses public policies to maintain order or address the health, welfare, and safety of its citizens.   

The Government’s Role 

What if a public policy does more harm than good? According to the Foundation for Teaching Economics, “There is an economic role for government in a market economy (like the United States) whenever the benefits of a government policy outweigh its costs.”

Public policies usually provide/address:

  • National defense
  • Environmental concerns
  • Individual and property rights
  • Market competition

To accomplish the goals and objectives of each public policy, a government uses tax money provided by its citizens.

When Public Policy Costs Outweigh the Benefits

The Foundation for Teaching Economics notes that government employees and elected officials do not always directly carry the costs of their political decisions. This leads to costs outweighing benefits for the society-at-large.

Why does this happen? “Incentives exist for political leaders to implement policies that [distribute] costs widely over large groups of people and benefit relatively small, politically powerful groups of people,” according to the Foundation for Teaching Economics.

The Foundation for Teaching Economics also reports that special interest groups give political leaders incentives, or benefits, to favor and pass certain public policies that give them immediate benefits and place the costs of such actions and policies on the citizens (mostly through taxes).

*Special interest groups are organizations or groups of people looking for or receiving special advantages, typically through political lobbying.

Can you think of a public policy that is more harmful or expensive than beneficial? 

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