Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Policy based on what?

As sometimes happens in the blogosphere part of the world, several somewhat disparate things get written and read within a fairly short time frame, welding together into a fairly solid picture. In this case it started with Ben Goldacre's last column. It points out the lack of will politicians generally have to actually figure out what works and what doesn't. Yes politics generally gets fought on big ideas but if the politicians never take the time to see what works and what doesn't then our planning for the future consists of listening to whoever is currently able to charm the public. It's quite worrisome. A day after I read that, Tim Watkin over at pundit came pretty close to describing my reaction after reading Ben's column, that you get someone selling an ideal for a few years, which is implemented regardless of whether it works or not and then someone else comes along and does the same thing with a different idea. All without bothering (usually) to find out whether the ideas are any good or not.
On a slightly different note, but a few days later, a chap I've never heard of before, a Chris Worthington by name, writes a column in the herald suggesting that there is no magic bullet policy that a government can create which will put us economically in front of the world. And he makes a good case for it. He even has a couple of ideas at the end about using things like prediction markets to figure out which policies aren't really doing the job. I'm not convinced that the use of prediction markets is the best way to go about it, I would suggest we should be running trials such as Ben suggests, or better yet, listen to what Peter Gluckman has to say in his latest report on using science to inform policy (unfortunate that he is the science adviser to an idiot prime minister who seems to think that science is just a matter of opinion). One of the big problems of course, is how you go about getting a politician to care about what happens 5 years down the track after they have left parliament. Ideas anyone? I'm fresh out. We have the tools to figure out what works, we are aware of the problem of ideological based policy formation, yet we don't seem to be able to do anything about it. Sad.

NB.  Danyl has an interesting note on coming from Worthington's column, the cherry picking of Singaporean policy to fit an ideological policy base by the right, Singapore currently being the free marketers dream (low corporate tax rate, low unemployment, small public sector, fast growth) provided you ignore a whole bunch of other things like massive enforced compulsory savings schemes or the busiest port in the world on a route that see's approxiamately 60% of the worlds shipping trade being owned by the government and funds from that being used to pay for other things. If anything this should show why its dangerous to use ideological based policy. It's prone to picking only the parts of policies that fit with the world view of it's proponents, which if implemented would without the other half would fundamentally screw the system.

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