ROARR’s Guiding Principles (Part I): Data-Driven Decision-Making Produces Pragmatic Public Policy

Since starting this blog almost ten months ago, I intended to post this site’s guiding principles. Yet ten months into this experiment, I still haven’t done so. So without further ado, here is the first of seven principles that embody the philosophies underlying Reflections of a Rational Republican.

Data-Driven Decision-Making Produces Pragmatic Public Policy

One of the fundamental reasons our government is broken is that the political selection process favors ideological warriors over pragmatic problem solvers. For instance, each party’s primary process rewards candidates who toe the party line, and punishes those who sometimes favor practical solutions over partisan mandates.

Another major problem with our political system is that it is dominated by lawyers. According to Fox News, 203 of the 541 members of Congress are attorneys, and 218 have JD degrees. In other words, 40% of Congress has legal training, and 39% have practiced law at some point in their careers versus 0.3% in the overall U.S. population.

The problem with legal training is that it is focused on advocacy. Lawyers are imbued with a sense that they must provide their clients with the strongest possible defense. As such, they focus ruthlessly on the strengths of their clients’ cases, while downplaying the weaknesses. The American legal system is by nature highly adversarial. As a consequence, lawyers have a tendency to focus on winning their arguments rather than problem-solving.

In contrast, most first-time members of China’s political leadership were not lawyers, but engineers and administrators. In China’s 17th Politburo, 76% of members had experience as provincial leaders. Until several years ago, all nine members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee were engineers by training.

The contrast between the two countries today could not be clearer. The Chinese government has focused on problem-solving. After all, the pressure to create over 24 million jobs a year to stave off social instability is a very real motivator. The country’s economy continues to grow at well above 8% a year, and, as of October 29, 2011,  it has accumulated massive foreign exchange reserves of $3.2 trillion. In contrast, the United States continues to be mired in partisan political bickering that nearly triggered a default on its federal debt in August 2011. It is then no surprise that America’s economic growth is expected to remain below 2% for the foreseeable future.

The only way to reconcile political differences is to find common ground. The easiest way to do that is to use data to drive decision-making. I believe that people generally fall into four buckets. They are either liberal or conservative, and they favor either ideology or data in policy developement. I believe every sound government should have some ideologically driven leaders from both political parties to inspire us. That said, I believe the government that governs best is one populated predominantly by data-driven decision-makers. For these individuals, ideology is important, but data is supreme. The problem today is that America’s government is dominated by data-fudging ideologues who care more for party than for problem-solving.

Source: ©2011 Reflections of a Rational Republican

The figure above provides a useful framework to illustrate this problem, and is the primary reason I created this site. I call the funnel in the chart, the “Funnel of Futility.” The more ideological a decision-maker is, the wider the gap between him and his ideologically equivalent counterpart. As ideology becomes increasingly important in one’s decision-making process, the more futile working with an ideological opposite becomes. In contrast, as more data-intensive decision-makers interact, the partisan gap narrows, and government becomes more useful and efficient.

As such, the purpose of this site is to confront the facts, create a dialogue centered around data, and engage in problem-solving rather than political bickering.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
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12 Responses to ROARR’s Guiding Principles (Part I): Data-Driven Decision-Making Produces Pragmatic Public Policy

  1. Mark Sussman says:

    Funnel of Futility – – OK, you’re one for seven – – I’m with you so far, friend.
    Mark S
    Engineer and Problem Solver – – by education and experience.

    • Mark,

      “Engineer and Problem Solver – – by education and experience.”

      You weren’t kidding. Former Chief Engineer and Program Manager of the B-2 Stealth Bomber Program? I’m VERY impressed. One of my good friends had the pleasure to fly the aircraft you made possible over Baghdad.

      I hope the next six posts live up to your very high standards. 😉

  2. Chris Van Trump says:

    Ideology has its place. Ideologues do not.

    To wax purple for a moment, because occasionally it amuses me to cast my beliefs in horribly overblown prose:

    Passion must be tempered with reason lest the ship of state be rent asunder. Passion may be the wind that fills our sails, but reason must be the steady hand upon the tiller, the guide alert upon the bow. Without passion, the ship does not sail; without reason, the ship does not sail for long.

    Or, in less pretentious terms, when ideology overwhelms rationality, the government can persist in moving for a while, but in the long run, it’s doomed. Without someone to rein in the passions of the government, and the electorate for that matter, the divide will inevitably grow until the system ceases to function as it should.

    Rather like what happened not too long ago when the government nearly went into default quibbling over what were frankly minuscule changes to a debt problem that requires bold action, not partisan squabbling.

    Part of the problem is that the ideologue, in theory, wins either way. In the event of failure, regardless of the cause, they can simply blame their opponents, and since neither they nor the people who elected them give two figs about hard data, they don’t have to present any proof whatsoever.

    Stimulus didn’t work? Stimulus was too small.
    War on Drugs doesn’t work? We just need to crack down harder.

    And so on.

    To be honest, it’s part of what troubles me about the increasing extremism in American politics, and what I perceive as the media’s attempt to enthusiastically fan those flames. Passionate ideology could be damaging enough; cynical ideology could bring the entire thing grinding to a halt to further a handful of shortsighted political careers.

  3. Pragmatic for what end? The ideology determines the objectives, the goals, the “good”. Otherwise, data-driven-decision-making is blind.

    We are partisan because we are in the midst of a great national dispute over the proper ends. The progressive agenda which has dominated our ends since the late 19th century. Progressive ideology used by data-driven-decision-makers have piloted us, with some detours, to where we are today. Our partisan quarrel is beyond data and about values. There is no way to move non-controversially from “what is” to “what ought” .

    I think your funnel of futility ought to be modified to be an X shape, wide at both the bottom and the top, because Data-Driven and Ideological are both ideologies (small I).. Additionally, consider an horizontal X, wide at the left and right sides. And rather than crossing straight lines, the four lines ought to be curved and approach tangent at the horizontal and vertical axes. It is in that space that the common ground is found and republican (small R) and democratic (small D) accomplishments take place. (I’ll try to put together a graph later).

    • Ideology will always be in the background, even for the most rational rationalist. I believe that when it comes to the big ideas above visions for America, the ideologues are useful. However, when it comes to implementing ideas, I will believe pragmatists are superior in almost every way.

      Take Alabama, for instance. The government there is rigorously enforcing anti-immigration laws after ignoring them for a number of years. Now, family farms can’t find enough legal labor to keep their concerns going.

      Ideologically, I agree with the policy. Farms should not employ illegal immigrants. However, the reality is that they do. A pragmatist would recognize the reality of the situation and devise a practical compromise. Create a guestworker program to confront the reality on the ground in a way that enables the government to accompish a legitimate objective in the least harmless way. Alabama is learning this lesson the hardway.

      “I think your funnel of futility ought to be modified to be an X shape, wide at both the bottom and the top, because Data-Driven and Ideological are both ideologies (small I).. Additionally, consider an horizontal X, wide at the left and right sides. And rather than crossing straight lines, the four lines ought to be curved and approach tangent at the horizontal and vertical axes. It is in that space that the common ground is found and republican (small R) and democratic (small D) accomplishments take place. (I’ll try to put together a graph later).”

      It sounds like you are describing an hourglass-like shape, no?

      • I agree with you on the need for balance between ideologues and pragmatist. In my local Republican Party, I am both a staunch conservative and a RINO, Actually, I am starting my own splinter , the RHINO’s .

        Hour glass, possibly, depending of the formulae for the curves I am going to have to remember some algebra to draw them properly. The area surrounding the origin of the axes is the region where pragmatist and ideology can move forward.

  4. Pingback: ROARR’s Guiding Principles (Part III): Equality of Opportunity Does Not Imply Equality of Outcomes | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  5. Pingback: ROARR’s Guiding Principles (Part IV): Free Markets Are Preferable to Tightly Controlled Ones… | Reflections of a Rational Republican

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