The Public Wants Good Outcomes, Elites and Institutions Should Try to Deliver Them

Jacob Weisberg’s article blaming “the childish, ignorant American public—not politicians—for our political and economic crisis” makes fun reading for anyone who follows politics professionally, but it’s fundamentally misguided. The fact that the public, in response to opinion polls, delivers contradictory desires about the details of public policy just shows that most people have a second-order desire to not invest their time learning the answers to these questions. If you tried to decide how to build highway overpasses by polling people, you’d have (a) paralysis, (b) shitty highways, (c) snarky articles about how public ignorance rather than bad engineering was to blame. But the reality is that that would be a dumb way to build overpasses.

At the end of the day, I don’t think public opinion about policy is all that hard to figure out. People like conditions in the country to be good, and they get upset when conditions are not good. Effective politicians deliver good outcomes, and effective political institutions create incentives for those with power to do their best to deliver good outcomes. Right now, the outcomes being delivered by the Obama administration are not that good. But the nature of our political institutions is that these outcomes don’t represent the Obama administration’s best effort to deliver good outcomes. Instead, you get a weird mishmash of administration ideas, opposition obstructionism, “centrist” preening, liberal whining, etc., etc., etc.