Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for March 2nd, 2010

Public policy primer: The theory of collateral damage

Posted by sanityinjection on March 2, 2010

“Collateral damage” is a military term applied when an action results in damage suffered by persons or things other than the intended target.  It’s a useful and easy to understand phrase which I propose to apply to the realm of public policy. I argue that one of the major reasons that government initiatives fail is that their creators fail to anticipate “collateral damage”.

Lemme ‘splain. Let’s say you are a politician with a public policy goal – maybe extending health insurance coverage to more people, or creating more jobs to bring down unemployment. As a politican you also have a secondary or even primary goal of good PR – it is even more important that you appear to be doing something about the problem than that you actually solve it. This creates a desire to move as quickly as possible, and that in turn leads to a tendency to fail to anticipate the “collateral damage”, or unintended consequences of the primary action. Almost nothing that government does is going to be without side effects.

For example, the collateral damage of a military build-up – however justifiable in terms of national security – is usually an increase in the deficit. That may not be a reason not to do the build-up, but it certainly should be taken into account and minimized as much as possible. The collateral damage of raising the minimum wage might be an increase in unemployment, as companies that have to pay higher wages compensate by hiring fewer workers. This incremental effect should be analyzed and used to calibrate an increase that is neither too little to help or so high that it causes harm.

The bigger and more complicated a government initiative, the more instances of collateral damage it’s likely to create, and you reach a point where that damage is collectively worse than the benefit you hoped to gain. This is one of the reasons why conservatives tend to reflexively view the expansion in size and scope of any government program as a bad thing. In far too many cases, the end result is that you are actually worse off in big-picture terms than you would have been had you done nothing at all. But the politicians get their photo-ops and press releases and can boast about the good they’re doing while ignoring the bad side effects.

Of course, not every consequence can always be fully anticipated. And some collateral damage is predicted and controlled for, but government, and especially Washington, could do a far better job than they do, with resulting benefits for the people they are elected to serve.


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Two Rant Tuesday

Posted by sanityinjection on March 2, 2010

Getting away from politics…

…I am increasingly appalled at the way driving in suburban America is getting worse and worse. There is no question in my mind that the culprit is cell phones – not even so much people talking on them while driving, but *texting* while driving. How anyone can seriously believe that they can do  so safely boggles my mind. What I also see increasingly is people stopped at a light or in a line of traffic, banging away on their microscopic keyboards, and then when traffic starts moving again, they don’t – and neither does anyone behind them.

That may seem like a minor nuisance, until you realize that if the line of cars is long enough, that texting person (or persons) may be causing traffic to backup into an intersection, causing serious safety issues. Bottom line: Your number one priority whenever you are behind the wheel is to PAY ATTENTION to what is going on around you. The next text message sent in this world that is of critical urgency in anyone’s life will be the first, so put the damn phone down until you are off the road, please. Additionally, please stop screwing around with your car’s GPS, DVD player, or anything else that takes your eyes off the road. It’s not as if our traffic and driving safety problems are so minor that we can afford to make them worse for no good reason.

…Now item #2 is sadly not a new problem…but please, explain to me what is the deal with the significant segment of the population that refuses to flush in public restrooms? Now I am not talking about when the flush mechanism is broken – I’m just talking about those people who don’t seem to consider it their responsibility to leave a clean slate when they’re done. This is even more common with urinals. (I would like to believe that this problem plagues the male gender disproportionately, but I’m probably deluding myself.) Here’s a news flash – Just because you didn’t defecate, doesn’t mean the next person wants to encounter the detritus of your visit to the restroom – even if that simply consists of a piece of tissue. Or as John Cage used to say on the 1990s TV hit Ally McBeal, “I like a fresh bowl.”

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