Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

3 thoughts

  1. Yo mk, I’m not sure it’s quite right to call the actual scientific method “results-oriented,” and I’m eager in any case to hear how it can be used to “choose the proper size of government.” Maybe we can make Mexico the control group for our little study.

  2. OK, the actual scientific method is (when it comes to policy) about reliable methods for determining correlations between inputs and outputs. Results-oriented governance combines these (fuzzily known) input-output correlations with societal values to determine the optimal suite of government policy. The uncertainty of our predictions needs to be factored into our policy recommendations.
    One way to use science to determine the proper size of government is to consider
    (1) people’s value-based preferences for an equal society vs. a prosperous society;
    (2) what relative levels of equality vs. prosperity are in the feasible set given a variety of policies (welfare policies, taxation levels, tax regressivity, etc.);
    (3) pursue the policy in the feasible set (2) which maximizes value according to criterion (1).
    Of course, these steps can be taken with various degrees of actual empiricism. Instead of studying people’s value preferences, one could just substitute one’s own preferences. That would be a bad approximation. Alternatively, one might not have very good data about what policy choices lead to what inequality/prosperity combinations. In that case we should consider our predictions to be noisy, and decide accordingly.
    But in general a framework along these lines provides a rational basis for evaluating different policy recommendations. One can also scientifically study (a la public choice economics) the transformation of a policy from its conception to “post-sausage-making.” Does rent-seeking go up? Etc.
    In other words, rather than using prejudices to guide our action, we should use empiricism wherever possible. Even if it is only “partly possible” (because empirical data is limited or predictions are less reliable), it is better to make scientifically-informed predictions about the consequences of policy decisions, than it is to make bad, prejudice-driven predictions about policy efficacy. Do you disagree?

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