Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wisdom from a great social scientist

James Q. Wilson, America's preeminent social scientist, has noted that until relatively recently, "politics was about only a few things;
today, it is about nearly everything."

Until the 1930s, or perhaps the 1960s, there was a "legitimacy barrier" to federal government activism: When new policies were proposed, the first debate was about whether the federal government could properly act at all on the subject.

Today, there is no barrier to the promiscuous multiplication of programs,
because no program is really new. Rather, it is an extension,
modification or enlargement of something government is already doing.


"There has been," Wilson writes, "a transformation of public
expectations about the scope of federal action, one that has put
virtually everything on Washington's agenda and left nothing off." Try,
Wilson suggests, to think "of a human want or difficulty that is not now
defined as a 'public policy problem.'"

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