Forget Technocrats - Let's Get Some Realitycrats

I don't really care about ideology and doctrine any more. I just care about what works.

I'm going to take a few (somewhat controversial) subjects and explain what I mean.

Fundamentally, I believe that all energy companies should be nationalised and there should be a single energy supplier. I don't want to pay a dozen CEOs, a dozen finance teams, and for a dozen advertising campaigns. Privatisation has been a complete waste.

And yet...

When my previous energy company was being shit, I fired them. I moved to a competitor who had a UK-based call centre and would actually reply to emails. Later, I moved to an energy supplier who gave me API access to my account. I genuinely do not believe that British Gas would have introduced anything so innovative if left without competition.

I am fundamentally against privatisation on an ideological level. But I can't ignore that it is useful to be able move to a provider which better fits my needs. I like that I can choose to pay more for something which matters to me. And the same is true of broadband, parcel delivery, supermarkets, travel agents and lots of other services.

This isn't universal. Water privatisation hasn't worked. Trains aren't well suited to competitive pressures. I don't think the NHS should be further privatised. But, in some cases, privatisation has worked and I would be a fool not to adjust my political biases to take account of reality.

Let's take another example. Pretend, just for a moment, that you are anti-abortion. You believe that the ideal number of abortions in a country should be zero. Forget your ideological reasons - which countries have the lowest abortion rates? Well, it turns out to be the ones with high levels of sex education, easy access to contraceptives, excellent pre-natal care, and strong parental leave policies. And they all have legal access to abortion services.

If you truly want to reduce the number of abortions, there are a wide range of policies which actually work and don't involve demonising women and doctors.

On another topic. I fervently believe in the Year Of The Linux Desktop and I know in my heart-of-hearts that the UK Government and NHS would save billions if only they switched away from Google/Microsoft/Apple and embraced LibreOffice! But, realistically, the cost of retraining staff far exceeds any savings on licencing. I look at other governments which have attempted a wholesale switch to a new technology and I can't really see any long-term benefits.

You think that benefits scroungers should be pursued relentlessly because they're draining the budget and causing a moral hazard. But, realistically, far more is lost to corporate tax fraud - every pound invested in tax investigations yields incredible returns. We can probably both agree that the ideal number of fraudulent benefits cases is zero - but the evidence shows we'd lose less if we tackle bigger issues.

I'm all for Constitutional Reform. A written constitution would be much better than the ramshackle collection of "traditions" which make up the UK's elusive operating manual. Although I can't help noticing that the US constitution didn't do anything to prevent Trump's excesses, nor did it oust him, nor is it preventing him from his on-going coup. Whereas the UK dumped two failing and dangerous Prime Minsters without much fuss.

You staunchly argue against the introduction of a minimum wage. You think it will depress the labour market, reduce salaries, and destroy collective bargaining. But you are wrong. We can have a spirited discussion about whether the rate should increase, or whether it should be the same for younger workers, but the evidence shows the introduction of the minimum wage hasn't led to disaster.

Imagine that you fervently believe that the UK should "stop the boats". Have any of the current government policies worked to reduce those numbers? Is there any evidence that countries with "off-shore processing" receive fewer undesirables? Not that I've seen. It looks like faster and fairer processing is both cheaper to the public purse and achieves policy goals better.

And so it goes.

I'm sure you can come up with a hundred more examples at various political extremities. Some things work and some things don't. Getting bogged down in dogma doesn't help anyone. Yes, I know that the founding document of your political philosophy says X - but at some point we have to put theory away and go with something practical.

This isn't me going all "Centrist Dad". I'm not even sure I'd describe myself as a technocrat.

I just want evidence-based policy.

Share this post on…

5 thoughts on “Forget Technocrats - Let's Get Some Realitycrats”

  1. said on

    @Edent “ I don't really care about ideology and doctrine any more. I just care about what works” Hear , hear ! Would be great to write the same about IT security . I think about half of the things we do / solutions people sell sound correct, yet have little to no impact on the likelihood and impact of the organisation being attacked.

    Reply | Reply to original comment on
  2. Uncle Billa says:

    "I genuinely do not believe that British Gas would have introduced anything so innovative if left without competition."

    I'm pretty sure we would never have had cell/smart phones (whether that is good or bad is another topic) in the US if the government hadn't broken up the Bell System monopoly.

  3. said on

    @Edent It feels like the main obstacle to evidence based policy is politics - lots of evidence doesn’t align with “common sense”.
    To pick on one of your examples, tax fraud may cost far more than benefit fraud, but benefit fraud is both easier to understand and more likely to feature in someone’s personal experience.

    Reply | Reply to original comment on
  4. Yes and: I think if we truly had the ability to run tests, collect evidence, and make decisions on what actually worked, we would wind up with many of the solutions you mention anyway. The problem is, in reality, it's politically impossible to include the full set of potential solutions in an experiment, or consider data from a full set of situations when making a decision.

    And, of course, we're not allowed to really consider the question, "works for whom?" - a solution that works for upper middle class white people in the south east of England is not necessarily going to work for other demographics or people elsewhere. I would choose to prioritize disadvantaged groups who need the most help; other people might feel differently for reasons that range from perceived unfairness to bigotry.

    So we can't consider all the data, and the question of who the outcomes are optimized for is in itself political. The idea of evidence-based democracy is really appealing to me too, but - I know, I know - what's the evidence that it could actually work?


What are your reckons?

All comments are moderated and may not be published immediately. Your email address will not be published.Allowed HTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> <p> <pre> <br> <img src="" alt="" title="" srcset="">