Public policy

Public policy is an attempt to identify and act upon the behavior of groups of human beings. Usually the actor is a government, and its usual goals are to increase the wealth and power of the rulers and wealthy, hopefully by also increasing the health and well-being of the general society.

The crucial, central part of public policy is to try to assure that the interests of wealthy and powerful people are never aided by pain, misery or suffering in other groups. There are some general rules of thumb about how this should be accomplished:

Table of contents
1 Freedom of the Press
2 Republican Government
3 A government of law, not men
4 A free market
5 Adoption of positive economies of scale
6 Military defense
7 Health and safety
8 Progressive taxation
9 Science Policy

Freedom of the Press

Journalists should be free to report about anything at all. Market forces will drive them to communicate to masses of people about major social problems. In time, adjustments will be found for these problems. While this frequently annoys the wealthy and powerful, they themselves also benefit from the information, and improved society.

Republican Government

The basic political structure of a group should be controlled in some fashion by people with ordinary amounts of wealth and no power. If this group does not have control, it will create rebels and organize, especially if modern communications methods are available. While this definitely annoys the wealthy and powerful, it also is the only known method of creating a stable government. Since social stability is essential to the creation and maintenance of wealth and power, it directly benefits wise members of wealthy and powerful groups.

Since government administration can be a real specialty, the most long lasting governments generally assign it to specialists, and yet give ordinary citizens some say in the decisions and selection of the specialists. This is called a republic.

A government of law, not men

The government should be subject to law, in such a way that it can be predicted and controlled. Again, this is a two-edged sword that both hampers and benefits the wealthy and powerful. The advantage to the poor and weak is that they can form common cause and use legal means to redress major social wrongs.

In general, the government's deliberations, laws and budget should be published. Without this, the above safeguards may fail.

A free market

A free market creates extremes of both wealth and poverty. However, it is so much more efficient than other systems that it should be encouraged to be the primary means to distribute wealth. The government generally ajudicates contracts and regulates fair weights and measures. More recently, governments have regulated industrial wastes. One of the more successful programs has issued permits for a fixed tonnage of a pollutant, and established a market in permits. Private groups are permitted to purchase and retire pollution permits. As well, polluters then have an incentive to invest in technology to reduce pollutants and sell their permits.

Adoption of positive economies of scale

Some networks and services have positive economies of scale. That is, as they are more widely used, they become more valuable. The classic examples are money, weights and measures, roads, a common language, public education, and an agreed public ethical system. With industrialization, a large number of other situations have developed positive economies of scale: screw profiles, a thousand types of industrial linkages and methods, networks to provide credit, water, electric power, gas, sewage, telephone and data, computer operating systems, computer languages, and media.

The most advantageous regulation seems to be for the government to wait for a standard to predominate in the market, then require use of the prominent standard, and suppress the rest. This can be done benignly by simply having the government refuse to purchase other standards.

This method was used from antiquity until the European religious wars of the 1700s trained western society to value freedom.

The classic method seems to retain all of its ancient advantages for industrial standards, even though it arguably fails for religion and ethics. The classic method succeeded for measures, and eventually, even for a calendar. A universal money, gold was once available. An auxiliary language, such as Esperanto may also be possible.

One of the most valuable, peculiar and complex networks is a network for credit. Traditionally, this was centered on a national bank that certified subscribers. A credit network allows money to flow anywhere in the countries that subscribe. The advantage is that regional economies have access to more credit when they need to borrow to plant crops or improve structures (both are seasonal in many areas). In the past, in such situations, regional banks would often lend all their money, and then stop lending because no more money was available. This limits production, as well as limiting recovery from natural disasters.

Military defense

Successful governments develop means to perform a military defense of their regions. The wealthy and powerful limit the power of these groups by inculcating (and perhaps believing) propaganda about civic duties. Many long-term republics supplement this with a civil militia, and political and military structures that are not centralized, and therefore not easy to conquer or subvert.

Health and safety

Successful governments develop regulations to preserve health and safety. The more notable successes are public sanitation, drinking-water, health-education, vaccination and quarantine programs, and building codes.

Successful governments develop means to provide some minimal care for paupers and during emergencies. The level of care can be extremely crude, as long as it is not life-threatening. The classic, relatively successful programs are social security, with private investment, unemployment insurance paid for by workers, and some sort of civil defense or emergency program. The emergency and civil defense programs can be far more effective if made part of education and building codes.

Progressive taxation

It is known that certain types of taxation are very difficult for poor people. Many poor people are poor not because they don't work hard, but because they plan poorly. For these people, assembling large amounts of cash money on a fixed date can be nearly impossible. Therefore, poll taxes and franchise taxes are traditionally thought evil.

Science Policy

Some scientific research costs little compared to the pain suffering and expense that new techniques can prevent. At the same time, much basic reasearch may not produce products that can be sold, and thus might never be supported by business. A progressive, science policy that combines both utilitarian science, and inexpensive basic science and technology development can thus help people quite a bit.

When public policy and large financial or other stakes are in the balance, vested interests will often resort to 'junk science' to support their positions. But few among the general public can judge whether science is junk or not. Many people choose simply to disregard the results of any research that was not conducted and paid for by disinterested parties, a tactic that often excludes most or all of the scientific evidence that exists on an issue.

Consider the following example. A company is releasing a chemical into a stream. Environmentalists offer "scientific evidence" that the chemical is harmful in the amounts being released. The company offers "scientific evidence" that the release is harmless. Unable to evaluate the science, the public is liable to weigh the evidence according to their prejudices--for example, that companies or that environmentalists are never to be trusted. In the face of such disputes, the government may call for an independent scientific assessment. But this is not so tidy a solution as it looks. A dispute may then erupt regarding the composition of the assessment committee, whether about the independence of particular scientists or about the balance between committee members who tend toward one side or the other. See the related article on the scientific method.

copyright 2004