How to make America great

A failing I often have to highlight in student public policy papers is a confusion of ends and means. Often they mistake an admirable object of a policy, say, “increase arts education in public schools”  for something someone could actually do to make it happen, and I have to ask that the next draft distinguish among funding after-school art classes, shifting some number of class hours away from math or English to art, hiring artists as provisional teachers, getting the English teachers to teach art, and so on.  Actually accomplishing something frequently has this awkward need to fix on a series of actual steps a real entity can take within the law, and within constraints of stuff like gravity, conservation of matter, the second law of thermodynamics, and like that.

It has been so widely noted as to need no links that Donald Trump’s promises are process-free in the dreamy way of these student papers, couched in the skilled shtick of a practiced grifter: ‘I’m going to make you rich, and we’re going to do it by cheating that nasty fellow behind the tree’.  What is the historically grounded, basis of such nonsense? I have found it in the reign of a real emperor, what the Donald aspires to become, and it goes like this:

[the citizens of Titipu have told the Emperor that Nanki-Poo was put to death per his instructions, but he turns up alive and well]
Ko-ko: When your Majesty says, ‘Let a thing be done,’ it’s as good as done – practically,
it is done – because your Majesty’s will is law. Your Majesty says, ‘Kill a gentleman,’ and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead – practically, he is dead – and if he is dead, why not say so?
Mikado: I see. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!
Then let the throng
Our joy advance,
With laughing song
And merry dance,
With joyous shout and ringing cheer,
Inaugurate our new career!

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.

17 thoughts on “How to make America great”

    1. That's sure to work. We'll be welcomed as liberators! In order to ensure success, however, I hope that Trump comes up with a snappy derisive nickname for Pena-Nieto. We'll get Mexico to pay for the deportation force too.

      1. You don't have to like the content, the means, for them to exist. Criticize what's there, rather than pretending it isn't there.

    2. If a policy proposal is absurd on its face, that's effectively indistinguishable from no content.

      1) Trump literally does not have the power to implement something like this in three days. There is a formal process for agency rulemakings.
      2) American companies do business in Mexico, too, and many American goods are made in Mexico. Mexico would retaliate. It would be ugly, and I'm not sure we'd get the better of it.
      3) Would a President Trump be so susceptible to analogous attempts by other international powers to blackmail the US for policy concessions? I assume not. Countries value their sovereignty and international image.
      4) I suspect enough Republicans in Congress would revolt to enact a measure to hamstring Trump in any attempt to implement something like this, similar to how enough Democrats revolted to prevent Obama from transferring Guantanamo detainees to the US.

      It's not a serious policy proposal. In the student paper example, it's the functional equivalent of saying we'll just add another mandatory hour to the school day. Never going to happen.

      1. "If a policy proposal is absurd on its face, that's effectively indistinguishable from no content."

        No, it isn't. "No" content is neither absurd nor serious, vague nor precise. It's absent. Moreover, the details of Trump's policy proposals are not "absurd", you just don't like them.

        What you're doing here, is announcing that, if you don't like the details of a proposal, you won't admit it has any. That is NOT a stance you'd accept from somebody on the other side. Imagine if Republicans had taken the position that the ACA had no content, no details or means to it, just because they thought the details were unworkable.

        You wouldn't accept this as a reasonable position, you'd brand them liars.

        1. If you honestly can't tell the difference between a controversial policy and a policy that is literally impossible to implement as proposed, I can't help you.

          1. The ACA was literally impossible to implement as proposed. Why else do you think one statutory deadline after another got waived? Why else do you think the state exchanges have been dropping like flies? And yet you'd have screamed bloody murder if the Republicans had called it "content free" just because they thought the content was unworkable, as it proved to be.

            You're propounding a standard, "Content that I don't think will work isn't content at all." that you'd never agree to your opponents being permitted to use.

          2. Everyone holds the other side to a higher standard. See: every comment you make on a Hillary Clinton-related thread. But yes, Trump is claiming he has the statutory authority to do something he doesn't have the statutory authority to do. ACA required an act of Congress. Comparison's not that apt.

          3. Yeah, the ACA required an act of Congress. Many of Obama's subsequent ACA related actions also required acts of Congress, but were just done anyway without them.

            But we already have acts of Congress calling for a wall, calling for the deportation of illegal immigrants, and so forth. Much that Trump says he will do simply requires not continuing to violate current law, rather than enactment of new laws.

  1. Have to laugh at Trump's "solution". Sounds great until challenged in the courts. And there are probably multiple ways around it, some of which will just arise from sheer human ingenuity.

    I am sure there are a lot of non-Latinos and legal Latinos who will gladly remit money on behalf of their friends and relatives. Not to mention credit cards and paypal. You can predict a lot of fake "sales" on eBay. The Mexican government can probably facilitate remittances with some sort of on-line voucher system, and even operate it though consulates – the recipient registers in Mexico, the money gets lodged in the consulate, and paid by the Mexican gov with a charge no less than what Western Union would get.

    It would be up to Trump to escalate .. declare a shooting war? A trade war? Sounds like a totally pointless conflict. The US Border Patrol needs new technology like drones, not a wall.

    Meanwhile, he would have to go to Congress to get money for his wall, if he wants to start it. It would take time for a measure like visa fees to accumulate the funds. The biggest irony of all is that Trump's signature proposal is another obvious Big Government Failure, and (apparently) Republicans are loving it.

    1. Technically, he doesn't have to go to Congress to build the wall. The law already requires a wall be built. We actually have quite restrictive immigration laws, if an administration is willing to enforce them. So, much of what he proposes doesn't actually require new laws to be enacted, it merely requires laws that were already enacted, often in the expectation they'd be ignored, to be enforced.

      And, yeah, his proposal can be circumvented, like any law. 100%? Not likely. The point is, he does have points of leverage, and ways to get the money.

      Bottom line, he's not making insane, content free, means-less proposals. He's making proposals you don't like from a policy standpoint, which actually have content and means.

      You just don't like them, which is your right.

      1. You're right, Brett. I don't like the proposal.

        I'll go further. The idea of the US Government putting a financial gun to the head of poor Mexican families in order to extort $5-10 billion from the Mexican government is morally odious and utterly disgusting. It's a Mafia tactic. I mean, why limit it to $5-10 billion? Why not twenty or twenty-five?

        Frankly, it makes me think even less of Trump than I did before. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea is depraved.

        The fact that the man proposing it is the nominee of one of our major parties makes my stomach turn.

        1. The Mexican government using the US as a dumping ground for it's undesirables and excess population, and providing transport to the border for anyone from points south who's going to violate our immigration laws, isn't exactly pretty, either. Making them pay for the wall seems reasonable reparations for that violation of our sovereignty.

          Look, there's a fundamental philosophical divide here on the proper aim of government. One side thinks the proper end is advancing the interests of US citizens, with the interest of people outside the US as merely a side constraint. The other side seems to think that the US government shouldn't prioritize the interest of US citizens.

          From the one perspective, Trump's proposals look like just common sense, from the other, outrageous. But we can't have a debate about the proper aims of US government if you're going to pretend that any proposals that don't agree with your conception of what the government ought to be doing are nonsensical or content free.

          And that's my point. You may think it impossible to slander Trump, but O'Hare has done it.

          1. If Donald Trump says so, it must be true.

            Is that what you think? Yes. I guess it is.

            By the way, I didn't say it was content-free. I said it was odious for the US to behave like a gangster organization to extort money from Mexico, and anyone who supported that is seriously depraved, as is Trump.

          2. If Hillary says so, it doesn't have to be true, that much is clear: Comey identified numerous points where she lied, before announcing that lying to the FBI is no big deal.

            But O'Hare claimed Trump's proposals are content free, all end, no means. Clearly not true, and I've been fighting the idea here that, if you don't like the proposed means, you're entitled to pretend they weren't proposed.

            Attack the content all you like, but it's there.

          3. I did attack the content. And I haven't heard much of a defense from you.

            So tell us. Are you in favor or not?

          4. Let's review.

            Me: The proposed policy is morally odious.

            BB: It's Ok. Mexico is dumping undesirables and "excess population" (whatever that is) on us, so it's only fair they should pay.

            Me: The business about Mexico is not true. Trump made it up. It's a lie.

            BB: Well, Clinton lies too, and besides, she should be in jail, as any graduate of the Bellmore School of Law knows.

            Proud of your argument in defense of the policy, Brett?

            (Edited to correct typos)

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