A fine balance

Since the ancient Greeks, and even earlier, balance and proportion have been recognized to be at the heart of merit, in art, in policy, and in praxis. Let us now pause to admire the fine equality between the heartless and bottomless greed of the current fatcat administration and its eye-popping and pervasive incompetence.

If you wanted to cripple a twenty-first century economy, how could you beat denying it brainy, hard-working, ambitious people, especially an economy facing a demographic downslope of low native fertility? The idea that national security, or jobs for Americans, are advanced by denying visas to people who want to come here, eat take-out night after night slaving over hot computers, and create lots of value as new Americans, is so goofy it can only be compared to a joke, like the British plan to convert to right-hand driving in stages (trucks and buses first, then cars a couple of weeks later).

The core illusion here is a confusion between a prohibition and an obligation, and it’s observable in other contexts. My home town has tried for decades to force blue-collar manufacturing to return to its desolate industrial sector by land use policy that prohibits anything else in zillions of square feet of vacant buildings. But zoning doesn’t force anyone to do anything, least of all to start a business, and keeping smart young people out is not at all the same as forcing firms to employ Americans; indeed, the latter is impossible, especially if such job candidates simply don’t exist.

I guess it’s a bitter consolation, or would be if it weren’t so costly for everyone, that these guys are so bad at what they do…

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.