Why do we fear innovative public policy? The solutions to many of the problems we face today could be found in such innovation.
The main barrier in the way of innovative public policy is the counterintuitive nature of many solutions. It’s hard for us to envision solutions that seem to go against everything we have been taught.
For instance, Ronald Reagan famously informed us “Government is not the solution to our problem, Government is the problem.” His declaration was clear, easy to understand, and easy to believe. We can see examples where our government steered us in the wrong direction and became the problem.
With this understanding of government, it is incredibly hard to see the obvious instances when more government could be part of the solution to a problem. Fixing our healthcare system is a perfect example of this. All available evidence convincingly illustrates government-run healthcare systems produce higher quality, better access to care, and are significantly less expensive than our system in the U.S. Despite this, we cannot seem to wrap our heads around these facts. They simply run counter to what our intuition, and so many politicians and pundits tell us.
Another prime example is the War on Drugs. Right now, the country is in the throes of an opioid epidemic. Experts and our government have taught for over a century now that drugs are bad, and drug users require punishment to mend the error of their ways. The idea of decriminalizing or even legalizing some drugs as the answer to this problem is completely ludicrous to us. How could that ever solve anything?
Yet, that is exactly the solution the people of Portugal chose. They responded to their heroin epidemic by decriminalizing heroin and all other drugs and investing heavily in drug treatment. As a result, they have lower drug use and abuse rates than we do, and their financial cost of fighting drugs has fallen compared to our continually rising costs.
We need innovative leaders.
Solving complex problems requires thinking about the problem in completely counterintuitive ways. It involves innovative public policy and innovation in the private sector. The only way that becomes comfortable for us is when those who influence us show us the way. It requires lawmakers, the media, celebrities, educators, and other influencers to be brave and bold. Under courageous direction, we can change the rules of the game.