The future of government is rational

Simpler: The Future of Government by Cass SunsteinI’m currently reading Simpler: The Future of Government by Cass Sunstein, previous administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the USA.

I liked this passage in the introductory pages; I’ve stripped out the anecdote from Moneyball that Cass uses, but I think the message stands on its own just fine.

As someone who has spent a few years working for government I am all for more evidence-based decision making and less knee-jerk hysteria:

Here is a possible approach to regulatory issues, one that can be tempting to some government officials: Ask which groups favour or oppose a proposed rule, who would be satisfied and who distressed, and whether a particular approach could be chosen that would please some without displeasing others.

These questions are not exactly irrelevant; public officials need to answer them. But they are far from the most important matters.

The plea for empirical foundations may seem obvious, a little like a plea for sense rather than nonsense, or for a day of sunshine rather than brutal cold [but] those seeking or resisting regulation say, “The public is very worried,” or “Polls show that the majority of people strongly favour protection against air pollution,” or “The industry has strong views,” or “The environmental groups will go nuts,” or “A powerful senator is very upset,” or “If an accident occurs, there will be hell to pay.” In government, I heard one or more of these claims every week.

None of these points addresses the right question, which is what policies and regulations will actually achieve.

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