There was irony in reading Dennis Grube 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 Prime Minister and Chancellor had read Dennis’ book before continuing their horribly counterproductive political experiment.
Now I must warn readers of this blog that I am not an unbiased reviewer of the book because its author is a dear colleague. 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 mistakes provide plenty to laugh about, perhaps because the alternative is tears. It also provides a very neat framework for analyzing policy rights and wrongs. This consists of four ducks: the definition of the problem that a policy is supposed to solve; the second is the narrative of politics aligned with the problem and connecting with what people care about; the third is reality, sometimes taken for granted (but even when this is inconclusive, the world is a certain way); the fourth is the effectiveness of the policy intervention itself, given the problem. Four ducks in a row does not guarantee success but is usually a necessary if not sufficient condition. To make policy-making even more difficult, ducks swim, there are turbulent tides, and so on.
Policy making is difficult. The world is full of wicked problems. “It’s complicated” is an unwelcome message for most politicians (and voters). But reading Dennis book & thinking about lining up the ducks is a good place to start: Mr Kwarteng may have realized he only had a duck and a half last week at best.
PS Dennis makes a book launch at Waterstones in Cambridge October 7, in conversation with David Runciman. It will be a very good event.