Howard's Daily: The Worse Things Get, the More Cautious Experts Become

Nick Kristof's essay last weekend bemoans the growing distance between academic thinkers and the world of public policy. One point that rings true to me is the almost emotional aversion by academic experts to coming up with solutions. As he notes, "In the late 1930s and early 1940s, one-fifth of articles in The American Political Science Review focused on policy prescriptions; at last count, the share was down to 0.3 percent."  Common Good's online policy forum series, NewTalk, has engaged expert academics who often show more interest in exhaustively analyzing problems than imagining potent solutions.

Government is broken. Everyone knows it. While there are a few experts out there actively pushing a new vision -- for example, Harvard's Larry Lessig with campaign finance reforms -- they are the exception. The worse things get, the more reluctant experts are to go out on a limb to suggest new ideas.

Now, I don't happen to believe that experts have a monopoly on wisdom. The more specialized they are, I've observed, the more likely their ideas will depart from good sense. But even a bad idea prompts debate and gets people thinking about change and innovation.

When things aren't working, it's easy to criticize. It's even easier to throw up your hands and observe that nothing is politically feasible. After all, Congress can barely avoid national default by raising the debt ceiling.

But the current system is not fiscally sustainable. The time will come when America must make new choices. For these choices to be good choices -- moral as well as practical, and consistent with America's noble founding values -- there must a new vision. Who is coming up with that vision?

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