Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why argue over trivia?

Scott Sumner has a very interesting take on why we spend so much time arguing over the little stuff and ignoring the big stuff:
I would like to argue that most of the really important public policy issues are not even part of the ongoing debate in the press. Here are some examples:

1. The huge rise in occupational licensing.

2. The huge rise in people incarcerated in the war on drugs, and also the scandalous reluctance of doctors to prescribe adequate pain medication (also due to the war on drugs.)

3. The need for more legal immigration.

4. The need to replace taxes on capital with progressive consumption taxes.

5. Local zoning rules that prevent dense development.

6. Tax exemptions for mortgage interest and health insurance.

These 6 policy failures impose enormous damage on the country, far more than the issues typically discussed on the evening news. Why aren’t they discussed? I would argue that it is partly because the disagreements tend to break down on values, not ideology. Most idealistic intellectuals agree with me on all of these issues. They are not issues that divide the left and the right. It’s also true that most real world politicians agree on these issues. However their views are exactly the opposite of the views of intellectuals. Hence there is no “policy debate” in either the political or intellectual arenas, and hence no “fight” for the media to report. They become invisible issues.
I've written about a few of those things in the past. Even local news seems to focus on "small in the grand scheme of things" issues. For example, the school Superintendent search has dominated local news for the last month or two. But how important is the Superintendent in the grand scheme of things? It seems to me we like to think that a Wise and Strong Leader will Lead Us to the Land of Milk and Honey, but in reality how our kids do in school is really much more a function of how we treat them at home than who is pushing pencils in the head office.

Yeah, yeah, I'm probably underestimating the impact a great superintendent can have on a school district. But in all the opinion pieces I've seen in the local news about the superintendent search I don't recall seeing even one person explaining exactly HOW a great superintendent might vastly improve the screwed-up school system we're stuck with...

1 comment:

Larry Kelley said...

A great President can vastly improve the screwed up course of our Ship of State...over four terms.

Although ironically enough a sneak attack on our Navy, asleep in paradise, helped.