The safe haven of politics is theory. In theory, everything works.

Everyone has some theory of how the world works. One it comes to politics, we call that theory an ideology. Every politician has an ideology, so do voters. Where does ideology come from? Some from what we’re taught about how the world works in school, some from our experience, some from what we see on the news. But most of us derive our ideology from our tribe, our political affiliation, and our bias.

The fact is, most people feel very strongly about what is good policy and what is bad policy but they don’t actually know, they don’t have a strong basis for their beliefs, they frankly don’t think about it that much. The same is true of politicians. Politicians don’t care about policy, they care about votes, signaling to voters that they share their ideals. Fundamental voter disinterest, not corruption, is the source of unrepresentative, incompetent governance.

Does it really have to be this way? Do we have to spend every two to four years having the same tired arguments, the same we’ve been having for fifty, a hundred years, over what works and what doesn’t?

The stupidly obvious, inescapable truth is: no.

You think one thing, I think another, we don’t know for sure so we theorize and argue and participate in that great American sport of debate. But in the end, neither of our minds change. In fact, we’re more sure of our position than ever. But we can’t just do nothing, we have a problem and it has to be address else people will suffer. [Yes, people will suffer. Policy or lack thereof, has consequences that must be weighed and considered carefully. What may seem a small or innocuous change in the law has a real impact on lives, something most politicians don’t seem to realize. ]

Right now I’m about to suggest something that has apparently escaped the grasp of great minds in politics for centuries. Take a moment to mentally prepare yourself for the shock of how painfully simple the solution is. Seriously, I don’t want you to go into shock. I hope you’re sitting down. This is a doozy.

We experiment.

That’s it, we experiment, so simple, nothing to it! Okay, there’s a little to it. See, when it comes to public policy and economics, there’s actually a whole lot less empirical evidence than any of us should be comfortable with. It leaves our policy debates with very little actually substance and we end up relying entirely on unverifiable theory. Theory is meant to guide, not decide.

By experimenting, we close the gap. By collecting data and evidence, we shut out the chatter and cut to the truth.

All of the great debates over the last half century in politics have amounted to very little. Nothing conclusive has ever been determined, the country has been in a slow decline as fought to stop each other from implementing the policies we knew in our hearts (not our brains) to be paths to failure. Instead of arguing, we can put our theories to the test.

We have a variety of large metropolitan areas, villages, and rural land. We have large public universities scattered across the state and many successful community colleges. We have a broad range of businesses and industries as well. What that all adds up to is ample test beds to try out a variety of policies on a small scale simultaneously.

The policies that have limited or negative impact or where costs spiral, will be cut. The policies that have a positive impact, the policies that succeed, come in under budget will be expanded and scaled up. Tweaks can be made, improvements and fixes that are discovered along the way. Policy making should be a dynamic process, a learning experience. Not one and done revisions to the Ohio Revised Code that will sit on the books for decades as first conceived.

And you know what we’re likely to find from all this experimental data? That we are all so very, very wrong about everything we’ve argued, insisted for years, would work. The world is complicated, complex, full of unforeseen trials. Policy makers and politicians should act like it.

Of course, this will take away politicians favorite tool of obfuscation, hiding behind high-minded rhetoric while nothing gets done and people suffer. Maybe they’ll actually have to work for once instead of just passing bills to rename highways and give handouts to themselves and their corporate donors.

What Needs Done:

  • For 50+ years, policy in Ohio has been a lose-lose battle of empty rhetoric. We need a new, experimental approach to policy.
  • As it stands, laws are passed then left to fester. Laws have to be living, they must be reassessed, adjusted, and fixed based on what we learn from implementing them.

What I’ll Do:

  • Develop a new policy-making process in Ohio that will turn our cities and villages and whole state into true Laboratories of Democracy.
  • Create a department of Experimental Economic Analysis to evaluate pilot programs and help them to scale.
  • Create a department of Dynamic Policy to evaluate the impacts of policy, how the policies are being implemented, and how the policies can be improved.
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