July 20 2010
On Humble Policymaking
Nicole Kurokawa Neily
Last week, the always-excellent Amity Shlaes (author of The Forgotten Man, an excellent narrative of the Great Depression) had a novel (but in retrospect, so obvious!) take on how we got into our current mess: arrogance.
Good policy is what might be called humble policy. It starts with admitting what we don’t know. That includes who will lead growth in 2011 or 2012, where that person lives, and how he or she will get capital. Humble policy then goes on to concentrate on trying to let our economy become that broad space that future businesses and industries still unknown, might find inviting.
Humble policy is, of course, hard for a U.S. Congress to get its head around. Policy, in lawmakers’ minds, is all about knowing and crafting smarter law. Lawmakers are arrogant in their certainty that voters will never accept policy that doesn’t reward voters like Pavlov’s dogs. Lawmakers are also certain that they shouldn’t be seen to write law that will help the rich in the future. But again, there is that mistake: they are assuming they know who the rich will be.
Many years ago, an economist named Friedrich Hayek noted that “To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.”
Alas, our politicians remain convinced that they know better than we do how we should live our lives. Such hubris now threatens to sink us all.