A few months ago North Carolina State University economics professor Richard Stroup, who directed the Office of Policy Analysis in the Department of Interior during the Reagan Administration, explained to a John Locke Foundation audience how we so often get bad public policy from dedicated public servants (he calls them “good;” I’ll let you make that evaluation).
The reasons are, not surprisingly, narrowminded mission focus and self-interest. Discussing his premise in the context of climate change policy, Stroup expounded further in an interview for JLF’s radio program:
The problem is that, because they believe their science and the possibilities they’re working on are very important, and the questions they’re looking at are very, very important – and that, by the way, helps to justify better funding for them – but again, if they really believe that what they’re doing is highly important, then there’s not very much conflict as they move from understanding that things could be as bad as this.
Maybe there’s only a 5 percent chance of it happening, but one time in 20 it could happen, and surely we want to avoid that because it could possibly be quite bad if that did come to pass. Well, they’re going to likely talk about that as something we just have to care about, and the way to get that kind of attention is to not say that there’s a 5 percent chance this is going to happen, but to say that I’m almost certain that this is a real possibility, and that we just can’t take a chance. We have to fund the research that will let us avoid that problem, and, meanwhile, we had better shut off the potential source of the problem.
If scientists and universities had to sell their research in boardrooms rather than to bureaucrats, we might be able to get rid of many of the charlatans…sorry, I mean dedicated servants.