Recently, I was talking with a friend and we were discussing the fact that many people believe that there are obvious, logical ways to make public policy. It’s an incredibly frustrating notion that I think a LOT of people have. “Do A, B, and C and you’ll get D. Simple. Why can’t the government do that?”
But there are two problems with this argument.
First, we don’t all want “D” to happen. It’s hard to come up with simple, effective policies to produce outcomes, if you can’t agree on what outcome you want. Some people like a more libertarian government, some like a more regulation-heavy government (and some like big government only when it suits their needs, but that’s a whole other thing). So let’s not pretend that we can agree on policies when we can’t agree on outcomes.
Second, even if we all agreed that we want outcome “D,” it’s often much more difficult than people realize to make policies to produce that outcome. For good reason, there are checks on power in the constitution, legal precedents, and consideration of minority viewpoints. None of these are bad things, but they complicate the policy and often make it less obvious and/or effective. And, of course, there’s the complicating factor of opposition parties and the political narrative created by any policy proposal. When the public doesn’t have perfect information, it’s often possible to manipulate their viewpoint against what might be a more “rational” policy. Finally, social and political sciences are imperfect. There are often a lot of moving parts and it’s hard to attribute any outcome to a specific policy. But though it is complicated and imperfect, doesn’t mean we should embrace ignorance. There are things we can know, but it’s complicated, so it might be best to put people in power that are experienced in policy.
And, by the way, both of these reasons are why running a government is very different from running a business. In business, it is often much more obvious what the desired outcome is. And there’s often far less checks on an what an executive can do or concern for minority viewpoints.