15 January 2008

Policy and rationality

From Bad Food Britain, by Joanna Blythman:
Rarely a week goes by on British television screens without a programme detailing, in disturbing detail, the unsavoury underbelly of industrial food production, or the effect that cheap, overprocessed junk food has on the nation's health. A minority ...is so affected by that knowledge that it changes its shopping habits instantly, boycotting this or that, and forking out more for an alternative. But within a few days after the headlines die down, it is business as usual for most British shoppers. page 133
So too in the world of policy. Attention spans are short, and what we don't really want to know, we can easily bury under the blizzard of new information. Slow-moving, unglamorous and inconvenient facts - and I don't just mean about climate change - are demoted in our minds. Politicians react to crises or events for which there is compelling tv footage. They are not always the ones to which we'd give highest priority if we were being rational. One solution would be to specify policy in terms of the outcomes it's supposed to achieve. Such outcomes will be less responsive to ephemeral events or distractions or the goals of corporate bodies or other lobby groups. On the same theme, that of rationality in policy, here is another idea, and US citizens could follow it up. You could sign this petition to be sent to Congress:
I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I am not afraid.

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