There was some irony in reading Dennis Grube’s Why Governments Get It Wrong: And How They Can Get It Right in the week of the Truss/Kwarteng budget disaster in the UK. If only our PM and Chancellor had read Dennis’s book before they went ahead with their hideously counter-productive policy experiment.
Now, I must warn readers of this blog that I’m not an unbiased reviewer of the book because its author is a dear colleague of mine. Declaration of interest made – this is a must for anyone interested in public policy, and a worthy successor to the classic King and Crewe The Blunders of Our Governments.
It’s wonderfully written and entertaining – somehow government errors provide plenty of material for laughter, perhaps because the alternative is tears. It also provides a very neat framework for analysing policy rights and wrongs. This consists of four ducks: definition of the problem a policy is meant to address; the second is the policy narrative aligned with the problem and connecting with what people care about; the third is the reality, sometimes presented as evidence (but even when that’s inconclusive the world is a certain way); the fourth is the effectiveness of the policy intervention itself, given the problem. Four ducks in a line doesn’t guarantee success but is generally a necessary if not sufficient condition. To make policy-making even harder, the ducks swim, there are turbulent tides, etc.
Policy-making is difficult. The world is full of wicked problems. “It’s complicated,” is an unwelcome message to most politicians (and voters). But reading Dennis’s book & thinking about lining up the ducks is a good place to start: Mr Kwarteng might have realised he only had at best one and a half ducks last week.
PS Dennis is doing a book launch at Waterstones in Cambridge on 7th October, in conversation with David Runciman. It will be a very good event.