Family values

About a month ago I tried to take the family metaphor for national or government economic management seriously, only because it’s so carelessly and incompetently thrown around. The exercise was necessarily fairly tortured, because a nation isn’t a family even if it has some family-like qualities, and a government is even less so. If you think it’s cute to say the US government has maxed out its credit cards, you have to explain why it’s still being offered loans at historically low interest, with T-bills hovering around 3%.

Let me try again. The country is a family whose kids are sick. The doctor says “here’s a prescription; they’re going to be sniffling and feverish for a while, but they will get better if you treat this. “

Mom brings the prescription home and dad says “We don’t need no stinkin’ medicine! Especially from a pointyhead doctor who thinks he’s smarter than I am! Those kids are lazy and they’ll get better if we cut back on their food until they’re hungry enough to shape up.”

The crazy uncle comes around to pitch a prayer meeting with burning incense and sacrifice of the family cat.

Mom says, “we tried that twice in the 30s and Aunt Bessie got much worse!”

The uncle says “let me explain disease to you: Shut up! Anyway, my brother and I have put an oil-soaked haybale in the basement and we’re going to burn the house if you don’t do this our way.”

“Are you crazy?”

“What does that have to do with anything? I have the mandate matches!”

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.

8 thoughts on “Family values”

  1. You forgot the part where the kids first got sick and mom brought home the prescription and dad said “That stuff doesn’t work, and besides it tastes funny. Let’s only buy half as much as the doctor says and pour half of it in the pig trough for good luck.” Fastforward to now, when the kids are still sick and dad is angry at the doctor because his first prescription didn’t work.

  2. A guy walks into a doctor’s office while hitting himself in the head with a hammer and says, “hey Doc, I got this terrible headache, can you give something to make it go away?” The Doctor looks up and says, “Schmuck, stop hitting yourself with that hammer.” The guy says right back, “is that what they’re teaching at Harvard these days you conceited snob? No, really, you got something to make it go away?”

  3. Nah, y’all forgot the part where the doctor gives the prescription to the mom, and mom can’t fill it because she’s lost her job and benefits and is broke.

  4. “Nah, y’all forgot the part where the doctor gives the prescription to the mom, and mom can’t fill it because she’s lost her job and benefits and is broke.”

    And she might use it to abort a baby.

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