The Reason Foundation’s Sam Staley has a very good and important piece in 2009’s last issue of National Review on the fundamental impossibility of fulfilling a pledge to enact policies guided by empirical analysis. Obama’s phantom districts and missed unemployment goals are just a few examples of the fact that government officials can promise total objectivity all they want, their promise is hollow.
Why is it that an administration, this one or any other, cannot remove ideology from public policy? My first guess is that administrations are ideologues by essence. They are Republican and Democrat. There is no way around. A candidate wouldn’t be nominated in the first place if he didn’t promise to carry the colors of its team. So claims of objectivity and pragmatism are rather dishonest.
Staley points to another reason and that is that “we simply don’t know enough about the way the economy and society work to make reliable — or in some cases, even useful — predictions on purely empirical grounds about the effects of public policy.
He concludes that “the Obama Administration is no exception, and its talk of ‘evidence-based public policy’ is little more than a pretext for doing what it wants to do anyway.”