15 October 2012

Playground psychology as a policy driver

The drivers of policy have little to do with outcomes. Perhaps the most important drivers are vested interests - government agencies, large corporations, trade unions, churches etc - whose over-arching goal is always self-perpetuation, which sometimes coincides with the interests of their members. Given the stakes, an even more worrying policy driver is playground psychology. Discussing how the US became embroiled in Vietnam, Frederik Logevall writes:

As Democrats, JFK and LBJ felt the need to contend with the ghosts of McCarthy and the charge that they were 'soft on Communism'. Frederik Logevall, quoted by Jonathan Mirsky in A debacle that could have been avoided (subscription), 'New York Review of Books, 25 October
John Kay writes about decision-making in business and politics:
 I once thought that however thin the public arguments for large corporate transactions, there was probably some serious analysis going on behind the scenes. Just as I once thought that whatever nonsense politicians might talk on public platforms, more substantive discussion took place when they retired to their offices. But closer acquaintance with business and politics dispelled both illusions. What you see and hear is more or less what there is. When I was sometimes employed to explain the economic rationale for a corporate transaction, I discovered that it was rarely useful to ask the principals why they were doing it. Usually you just heard those familiar clich├ęs. Sometimes you got closer to the truth, sniffed the testosterone, glimpsed the inflated egos. Source
Until we subordinate all policymaking to meaningful outcomes, as would happen under a Social Policy Bond regime, this demented way of making policy is set to continue, with all its calamitous consequences. See also my post: How policy is made.

No comments: