Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Fail

There are three types of failed political programs.  They are very easy to distinguish between each other afterwards, but harder to do so before.  

The three types of failed programs are:

  1. Philosophically Acceptable (aka Politically Correct)
  2. Easy Solutions
  3. Masks

Note not everything that uses a 'philosophically acceptable' or 'easy' solution fails.  But most failures fall into one of these three categories.

1) A Philosophically Acceptable failed program is based on a strong philosophy.  Often that philosophy is simply wrong, but other times it is just incomplete.  In any case, the philosophy itself demands certain solutions be tried, and not others.  But the solutions it demands do not work.  

Note the words "Politically Correct" in parenthesis.   In truth that is a better way of describing the problem.  The thing is, the right has co-opted that phrase to use against the left.  But in reality the right is JUST as likely to use "Politically Correct" solutions as the left is.

When the right speaks in favor of abstinence only sex education, that is Politically Correct.  When the right says "No to Obamacare", (which is basically a slight modification of a Republican health care plan), that is Politically Correct.  When the right tries to outlaw Flag Burning, it is being Politically correct.

But the left is not itself immune to this phenomena.   I personally think the way we do Affirmative Action suffers from this same problem.

2) Easy solutions are easy.  We know the proper way to fix something, but we think they are too hard or expensive, so we take the easy way.   There  is an old joke about the guy looking for his keys under a street light, but he lost them forty feet to the east in darkness.  But he looks in the lighted area because it is easier.

Examples of this are arresting drug dealers and prostitutes, rather than their customers.  (I am not talking about the whether or not those activities should be legal, just on how we enforce the law.)  There are far fewer supplies, so it is easier and cheaper to arrest say 10% of them.   But when you do so, it drives the prices up, which makes it more profitable, which attracts new customers.  This encourages more people to break the law.  If instead you arrest the customers, not only do you take customers off the market, but you also make other customers more wary - maybe they try to use it half as often.  This drops profits and makes fewer people use their services.   At the very least, we should alternate by year - one year go against the providers, then next year go against the users.

3)  Masks.  This is when you go after the symptom, not the cause.  You are not trying to fix the problem, just mask it from view.   When you arrest the homeless or protestors, as opposed to giving them jobs, or stop doing what they are protesting against, that is Masking.

The problems are not the things that annoy you.  Those are red flags created by our culture to TELL you that a problem exists.   Problems are things that are so bad you have to live on the street, or at least protest against them.  If you aren't willing to risk jail to solve the problem, then it isn't a real problem.

Back to Prostitution.  Did you know that prostitution used to be far more common?   The reason was simple - there were few other jobs available to women and sex was harder to come by on a date.  (Read Super Freakonomics for evidence).  Teacher, Nurse, Cook, Maid, or Prostitute and that was about it.  We solved that problem by opening up more jobs  and birth control also helped by letting volunteers take over the demand. 

Here are the tell tale flags of each of the problems, and how to fix them.

1)  Your program failed because it was Philosophically Acceptable if you despise the other proposed solution.  If you think the other side is evil, but your program failed, it means you are the bad guy, you are wrong, and you need to do what that evil bastard told you to do.

Why don't people do this?  Because no one wants to admit they are wrong and the guy they think is 'evil' is in fact right.   Not the right when it talks about Abstinence Only programs, not the left when it talks about Affirmative Action.

2)  When you think the other proposed solution is too expensive, or inconvenience the wrong people.  The solution here is to spend the money, inconvenience those people, or accept the fact that the problem is going to continue and find a way to live with it.   If you don't want to solve it badly enough, don't try halfheartedly.

3)  The problem with masks is that the better you do at masking the problem, the worse the real problem becomes.  The solution again it to stop trying to brush the problem under the rug and to concentrate on the real problem, the actual cause, which you have been ignoring.

Note that last solution is remarkably effective.   If you are ever stumped, look for a root cause and work on that, as opposed to the symptom.

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