Solutions waiting for Problems to Happen

The president will address the nation tonight from the Oval Office to discuss the BP/Deepwater Horizon fiasco. The New York Times reports: “It is Mr. Obama’s goal… to acknowledge the uncertainties and what one called “the new reality,” allay people’s fears and give reason to hope,” drawing parallels to FDR’s fireside chats.

One wonders: will there will be more in store this evening? Candidate Obama made a series of campaign promises about charting a course to a new green economy, reducing our reliance on carbon-based fuels through what amounted to a green industrial policy.

As political scientist John Kingdon reminded us in his classic Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies: “people in and around government sometimes do not solve problems. Instead, they become advocates for solutions and look for current problems to which to attach their pet solutions.”

What kinds of solutions can be attached to this problem? A new carbon tax? Increased CAFE standards? New investments in the “green technologies of the future” that will create “green jobs?” Cap-and-trade?

My best guess is that advocates in the administration, Congress, and the larger interest group universe are actively searching for means of coupling their favored solutions to the problem in the Gulf. A window of opportunity has opened, and as we know, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Unfortunately, crises may result in good politics, but they rarely result in good public policies. More often than not, they also result in an expansion of the public sector often with minimal attention to whether the resulting policies will have the intended impact on the problems in question.

2 thoughts on “Solutions waiting for Problems to Happen

  1. This sounds to me like another massive assault on the rule of law. I was astonished this morning when the President’s spokesman appeared on NPR and announced that the President had the authority to compel BP to put $20 billion in escrow. This without any legal finding of liability, or to whom, or for how much. If Uncle Barack decides you need to pay up, then you pay up. I guess since we all know they are accountable, trifles like legal institutions to establish liability are passe. I’m reassured to know that the Obama Administrations enthusiasm for bad policy hasn’t diminished.

  2. To be fair, crises can frequently be exploited for good (though it seems to be 90/10 against liberty). So Milton Friedman and others were able to exploit the Vietnam crisis to push for the end of conscription — and this was a huge gain for liberty. New Zealand successfully used an economic crisis in ways favorable for liberty (and economic growth).

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