Policy at the Margin

by F.

If you like evidence-based policy and dislike morality, as I do, you get into tricky situations when there is good evidence on both sides of an issue. This is, admittedly, not all that common (in my experience). But it does happen. So what do you do?

First, I think, confirm that the evidence for and against really is more-or-less equal. Make sure your ideological tail is not wagging your evidentiary dog. Recheck yourself for biases. Recheck again.

Still stuck? This is where normativity is unavoidable. But the normativity could be “minimal” principles such as:

  • Do as little as harm as possible.
  • Prefer incrementalism over revolution.
  • Try market mechanisms.
  • Make sure the incentives serve the goal.
  • More information is usually better than less.
  • Be cautious.
  • Be skeptical.
  • Take human nature into account.
  • Use existing processes where possible (such as natural processes).
  • Try to get the most for the least.
  • Figure out who pays under each alternative (nothing is free).

Is this “morality?” Maybe it is.