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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ballot Deadline Debate as a Metaphor for Sucky Public Policy

Posted by on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Okay, one more brief mention of the ballot deadline debate, but this time as a metaphor for everything that's wrong with our political system.

As I've relentlessly explained—using data and math and everything—moving the ballot deadline will not speed up election returns. But Secretary of State Sam Reed makes a very compelling argument nonetheless: "It is just logical that if you get those ballots in earlier, you're going to be able to get more meaningful results earlier."

It is a logical argument. Wrong, but logical. But more importantly, it is a very simple, forthright, and easy to understand argument, whereas my complicated, counter-intuitive, data-driven refutation requires numbers and analysis and critical thinking. And in policy debates, simplicity tends to win the day.

And that's why so much public policy sucks. Or at least, sucks more than it has to.

In politics, knowing what policy does or does not work is not as important as being able to explain it. Sometimes—often—it is the messenger who is to blame. But there are also some policies and policy positions that are just inherently easier to message than others.

For example, Washington State Dems have always done a crappy job messaging revenue issues, but to be fair, they also have a tougher job than their Republican opponents who can point to a nearly unbroken trend line of rising state revenue and spending as evidence of out of control government growth. That was Rob McKenna's education plan: Just devote a bigger chunk of this future revenue to education instead of spending it on growing other parts of the government. Simple.

"It is just logical that if both revenue and spending are growing," the Republicans might argue, "then government must be growing too."

Yes, that does appear quite logical. And simple. Whereas the question of "relative to what?" when it comes to revenue/spending growth, well, that's a much more complicated concept to explain. That Washington's state and local government continues to shrink as a portion of the overall economy (following our sales tax base), that growth in demand for public services closely tracks growth in personal income, and that even growing revenue faster than "population plus inflation" is not sufficient to maintain current services at current levels... that's a subject that could fill a fucking dissertation.

No doubt, easier to message policies are sometimes more effective than those that are not. But there's no inherent correlation. On the other hand, easier to message policies are almost always easier to sell. And that sets up a dynamic in which hard to explain policies and policy positions are at an inherent disadvantage over those that at first appear to be "just logical."


Comments (4) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
The question nobody asks is a simple one: Why?

It's not like they're fulfilling their primary constitutional duty of taxing Eymanites and fully funding education.
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 16, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Report this
care bear 2
And public policy programs, like the one I'm at right now, are all about numbers. But Republicans don't get MPPs, they get MBAs.
Posted by care bear on November 16, 2012 at 11:09 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 3

How does it track with the value of metropolitan real estate?

Figure that in, bub?

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on November 16, 2012 at 2:21 PM · Report this
"that growth in demand for public services closely tracks growth in personal income, and that even growing revenue faster than "population plus inflation" is not sufficient to maintain current services at current levels"

Why this is takes a little bit of explanation, but it isn't primarily about the general public demanding more, it's about potential employees demanding more. You can't make teacher/student ratios arbitrarily high and have a working education system, likewise with prison guard/prisoner ratios. But you also can't hold teachers' or police officers' salaries constant if private sector incomes are growing; otherwise you quickly find yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel for recruits.

Posted by Eric L on November 17, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this

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