If it fails, do less or more?
One of the key differences between private and public sectors is that in the private sector, failure is punished. If a product or company fails, resources shift away from it. In the public sector, unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case. A program which solves its target problem will go away, while one which cleverly tackles an impossible problem or uses a poor strategy is guaranteed a long lifespan.
The private method is more scientific, because it views any project as an experiment, whose initial success or failure is a meaningful data point about whether the project is possible or worthwhile. The public method ignores the data generated by early trials (or even worse, gives them a reversed interpretation).
I'm at a Mercatus Center + IHS mini-conference today, and Brian Doherty gave a talk about the enduring legacy of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Most of the talk was about the details, but his views on the future basically seemed to be that Rand & Friedman had significant cultural & academic impact, and so we should be optimistic and keep on trying those routes.
Yet I can't help but see a disconnect between the positive change in the cultural and academic climate, and the lack of change in outcome metrics like government spending as a percentage of GDP, pages in the Federal Register, or the government's Keynesian response to the recent financial crisis.
Now, one way to look at this disconnect is as progress - we've won part of the battle, now it's time to bring it home. Yet this perspective ignores the data generated by the results so far. Another way to look at the disconnect is as evidence that cultural and academic change may not work, and if we want results, we may need to try something else. This interpretation is scary because it suggests that the approach most natural to us may not be the most effective - but it is no less valid for of its unpleasantness.
I'm not arguing that we should completely ignore culture or academia - they are surely part of the answer, and perhaps even the ultimate solution. But I am deeply concerned that the freedom movement is almost completely invested in strategies that may have won mindshare, but have demonstrably failed to achieve our ends.
We need to decide: do we want to be like the public sector, throwing good money after bad, or like the private sector, nimbly switching strategies based on the evidence? At the very least, we should take seriously the idea that we might be fighting the wrong war - like the war of ideas instead of the war of concentrating power. And if that is a possibility, shouldn't we be putting more of our resources into new strategies, like the Free State Project, my own Seasteading Institute, or Agorism?