Defining the Contending Philosophies
In the previous post I introduced the idea of intentions vs. results based philosophies with regard to public policy. However, in order to make real progress, a far more detailed description of each is required. The following sections are intended to meet this requirement.
Given that I’m obviously not a member of this group (e.g., Progressives) , the challenge is to identify a model that adequately covers the known facts. I do have the advantage of significant Progressive engagement due to my life experiences. Following is my enumeration of these known facts (priority order is not indicated by the numbering).
- The having of “good intentions” is absolutely determinative to the obtaining of “good results.”
- An increase in the application of “good intentions” will create a corresponding increase in “good results.”
- “Good intentions” must translate into “good actions,” for example:
- Non-judgment means that there will be no criticism of behavior or attitudes by the intended recipients of public policy
- Generosity means that there is no limit to the amount of money that will be poured into given social programs, regardless of their results
- Open-mindedness means that all ideas that are supportive of a leftward policy trajectory are valid, while any idea that questions a leftward policy trajectory can only be motivated by “bad intentions.”
- There are no “good intentions” other than those defined and approved by the Progressive political movement, and, they can be changed at any time, for any reason.
- The having of “bad intentions” (as defined by the Progressive movement, see above) guarantees the outcome of “bad results.”
- There is no such thing as tradeoffs between competing goods.
- Any other factors beyond “good intentions” and their associated “good actions” are at best of secondary importance to the obtaining of “good results.”
- There are no such things as unintended consequences, good or bad. That is, all societal consequences are determined by intentional acts.
- There is no such thing as “good intentions” leading to “bad results” or vice versa.
- The application of government power is by far the most effective means by which to implement policies that are motivated by “good intentions” and thus must lead to “good results.”
Given these facts (obviously they will be disputed by some), I have generated the following model.
I won’t belabor the correspondence between the facts and resulting model, which should be obvious to most readers. However, a few additional comments are in order.
Firstly, note the direct relationship between intentions (with associated actions) and results. This feature is significant because it explains what, to me at least, has been a mysterious aspect of Progressive behavior. That being, no matter how catastrophic the failure of their policies, they respond with absolute certitude that the results are the best possible. Conversely, when confronted with non-Progressive alternatives they respond with the same certitude that these would make the situation worse.
This response makes sense if their model is that only their intentions are “good” and that this leads directly to results that are the best possible. And, since the alternatives come from people with “bad” intentions, then they can only lead to “bad” results.
Secondly, note that the “good” results for this model are only made possible by the Progressive’s intentions and actions. Thus, they are the heroes and the recipients are the beneficiaries.
This feature helps me understand their visceral hated of capitalism and love of socialism. For, in a capitalist system people with “bad” intentions apparently create “good” results. This possibility is anathema to Progressives. However, with socialism, only those with “good” intentions (in their utopian fantasy) are allowed to create “good” results (in the same utopian fantasy). This narcissistic need to be the clearly identified heroes who deliver peace and plenty to the beneficiaries explains how they can continue to demand socialism no matter how many flesh and blood humans die and suffer under its pathetic failures.
Finally, note that, because the government is believed to be the most effective transformer of intentions into results, Progressives live in an absolute need to control the government and use it to deliver their “good” results.
I’m sure that some will criticize this model because it makes Progressives appear to be simple-minded. My initial response is, have you recently attempted to engage in substantive debate with a Progressive? Yes, I’m certain that buried within the Progressive movement there are those with a far more sophisticated mental model. However, they are likely maintaining a very low profile give the current climate.
People who focus on results as opposed to intentions tend to develop a radically different view of how the world works. For, virtually anyone who has had the responsibility to deliver defined results finds themselves is a humbling situation. That is, although they are held accountable for the defined results, they find that there are a myriad of inputs that are outside of their control but that have powerful impact on the results. This experience creates two important facts:
- The scope and depth of pursued results are carefully limited to those that could credibly be obtained in the world as it actually exists
- Efforts to achieve these results incorporate mechanisms intended to address the uncertainties created by the larger set of input variables, many of which are outside of direct control. Some of these include:
- Alternatives should the original plan falter (e.g., “Plan B”)
- Feedback mechanisms that allow information created during the plan’s execution to be captured, analyzed and used to modify the original plan
- Risk assessment for the plan, in which those uncontrolled input factors are identified and assessed with respect to the plan’s likelihood of success.
Given these considerations, I have generated the following model.
This model differs from the previous in two critical respects. First, it presumes a large number of inputs with highly variable controllability (from virtually zero to relatively high). Second, it doesn’t claim to define how these inputs are combined to create the result. In this it follows the concept of “dispersed knowledge” in economic theory, that being:
the notion that no single agent has information as to all of the factors which influence prices and production throughout the system.
The modification of this definition for purpose of this model might be: “the notion that no single agent has information as to all of the factors which influence the results of a given policy being applied throughout the system.”
It’s not that adherents to this model consider themselves to be incapable of generating results. Rather, they are far more respectful of the complexity / uncertainty associated with their pursuit and mindful of limitations in the choice of goals. This fact generally creates an evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary mindset regarding the nature of societal change. It also creates a conservative bias, that seeks to limit the speed of change so as to allow for information feedback and mid-course correction.
Finally, a fundamental difference is that there are no certain “heroes” in this model. Yes, people and organizations can create more and less influence on the results, but there is no way to directly trace “good” results back to anyone’s “good” intentions. But, that’s fine for this model’s adherents if the results are actually good.