01 April 2012

Policy as if process is the only thing that mattered

Mark Steyn writes about the US healthcare bill:
A 2,700-page law is not a "law" by any civilized understanding of the term. Law rests on the principle of equality before it. When a bill is 2,700 pages, there's no equality: Instead, there's a hierarchy of privilege microregulated by an unelected, unaccountable, unconstrained, unknown and unnumbered bureaucracy. It's not just that the legislators who legislate it don't know what's in it, nor that the citizens on the receiving end can ever hope to understand it, but that even the nation's most eminent judges acknowledge that it is beyond individual human comprehension. Just reading Obamacare cruel and unusual punishment, 1 April
The problem is systemic. The policymaking process is more about the process than about the policy. And the process itself is arcane and obscure; comprehensible only to specialists and those who can afford to employ them to follow and influence it. Yes, society is complex, and the ways of achieving social goals are similarly bound to be complex. But that does not mean that government has to try to anticipate all these ways and legislate for them. A much more accessible approach would be one that specifies targeted outcomes and rewards people for achieving them, however they do so. Government could then concentrate on what it does quite well: articulating society's goals and raising the revenue to achieve them. If it issued Social Policy Bonds, it could then contract out the actual achievement of these goals to the private sector. As well as the efficiency benefits of channeling market forces into the achievement of social and environmental outcomes, there would be the buy-in that would come from a public that understands a relatively simple policymaking process, including necessary limitations and trade-offs involved in targeting a range of social goals. What we have now is policy as if process is the only thing that mattered. What we need - urgently - is policy as if outcomes mattered.

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