For the policy wonks among us, and given the ongoing debates on various policy and political options, a reminder of the risks of grand schemes, the weakness of our evidence base, and the need to encourage some experimentation at the smaller scale. Policy modesty, in other words, and dovetails nicely with some of the work by Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman on finding ways to ‘nudge’ people’s behaviour to compensate for some of our intrinsic thinking biases. Quote:
As Duncan Green of Oxfam puts it, “[J-PAL] are unashamedly, indeed belligerently, micro, small-is-beautiful technocrats…they are incrementalist and disagree with the structural focus of the ‘political economy’ approach or sweeping calls for revolution – they argue that positive changes can be achieved with less pain, often on a massive scale, even in hostile political environments, simply by minor tweaks to policies and institutions…And they aren’t scared to follow the logic of their own arguments, even when it takes them in some surprising directions…it’s hard to pigeon-hole the work as particularly right or left wing.”
The strongest arguments for this approach are the often counter-intuitive conclusions reached and the savings Governments might make by not investing in useless interventions.