Dear Xerographica — the flaw in your argument is the same flaw that believers in the Market have in other contexts, the idea that most people most of the time base their decisions on intelligent, long term, selfless cost/benefit analysis. In fact, most decisions are based on a very short term time frame, emotional and personality factors, and consider the effect of their decisions on only a very narrow set of people.
The environment is a long term cost and one not easily subject to specific allocation to an identifiable group.
If you ask people if they want to spend tax money on something that will cost jobs, will take 10 years to show any results, and whose benefits will not be able to be allocated to any specific group many if not most are not going to say, “Yes, let’s do that” even though the long-term benefits and necessity (look at the air quality in China) are clear. Short term decisions are human nature are usually bad decisions.
Secondly, it’s difficult to even get people to show up to vote for A or B. To suggest that it is even remotely possible get even 10% leastwise 50% or 60% of the population to sit down and draw up their own budget for the country and them able to rationalize those hundreds of millions of budgets into a coherent whole every year is a fantasy that is beyond belief.
It’s an idealized theory that fails to take into account even the most basic aspects of human nature. It’s the same idealized theory that says that the Market will solve problems and it’s based on the same flaw that I stated about regarding how humans really make decisions.
BTW, your term “free rider” is a derogatory term used by believers in the A La Carte social model. It’s based on the idea that everyone must individually pay for every benefit society provides. IOt the idea that if society pays for clean air through taxes then you are “free rider” (cheat) if you don’t personally pay part of the cost for cleaning the air.
This idea fails to acknowledge that a society has to work for everyone in it who themselves are able and willing to work, not just those whose work is highly compensated.