Why do some elected governments impose short-term costs to invest in solving long-term social problems while others delay or merely redistribute the pain? This article addresses that question by examining the politics of pension reform in Britain and the United States. It first reframes the conventional view of the outcomes – centred on cross-sectional distribution – demonstrating that the politicians who enacted the least radical redistribution enacted the most dramatic intertemporal tradeoffs. To explain this pattern, the article develops and tests a theory of policy choice in which organized interests struggle for long-term advantage under institutional constraints. The argument points to major analytical advantages to studying governments' policy choices in intertemporal terms, for both the identification of comparative puzzles and their explanation.
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